State pours $2.3 million into Big Island space center

Published On: Nov 13 2012 03:22:20 PM HST
Updated On: Nov 13 2012 11:21:06 PM HST

The state hopes a new investment will pay big dividends in future space explorations; meaning more jobs and innovations.

HILO, Hawaii -

The state is funding $1.8 million for the Big Island’s PISCES space center’s plans to expand its aerospace technology testing facilities and providing $500,000 for the center’s operations.

By allocating financial support to PISCES, the state intends to attract NASA and other space agencies from around the world as well as aerospace businesses and jobs to the state.

Since its founding in 2007, PISCES, the Pacific International Space Center for Exploration Systems, has hosted research and testing of space technology. 

Working with government, education, business and cultural interests on the Big Island, PISCES developed tests sites on the lower slopes of Mauna Kea, where the volcanic soil is more like the surface of asteroids, the moon and Mars than any other place on earth.

Through the careful use of these test sites, much progress has been made on technologies designed to help future robotic and human explorers survive and operate on harsh planetary surfaces.  These include robots, rovers and equipment that can be used to make air and water for survival on another planet.

A new director took the helm of PISCES at its annual conference in Waikoloa this week, Rob Kelso, former NASA Space Shuttle Flight Director at Johnson Space Center, accepted the PISCES job on Nov. 1.  DBEDT Deputy Director Mary Alice Evans announced Kelso’s hiring following the retirement of Frank Schowengerdt, who headed PISCES for five years after serving as director of NASA’s Research Partnership Centers.

“Our goal is to become the preferred provider for space agencies and commercial space businesses around the world that are developing technologies to help enable and sustain planetary surface exploration,” Kelso told PISCES conference attendees. 

"When we have some specifics on any expansion or new facility development, we will continue the PISCES tradition of sharing our plans and involving the community here in Hawaii," said Kelso.  "We want to build long-term partnerships and provide a valuable resource for local business and economic development and education. For example, any new facility will feature public exhibits and education programs."

Kelso announced that PISCES plans to host special tests of the robotic rovers competing for the international Google Lunar X-Prize, a $30 million competition for the first privately funded team to send a robot to the moon.  A Japanese rover from the multinational White Label Space team is being showcased at the Waikoloa conference along with a robot excavator from the University of Alabama, which recently won a NASA robotic competition.  Both robots will be demonstrated at the PISCES test site this Friday.

The legislation supporting the expansion of PISCES, signed into law by Gov. Neil Abercrombie June 27, 2012, folded the center into the State Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism, DBEDT.  For the past five years, PISCES has been affiliated with the University of Hawaii at Hilo.

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