Categorized | Sci-Tech

Big plans for PISCES program

Google X Prize Lunar Rover prototype. (Hawaii 24/7 photo by Karin Stanton)

Karin Stanton | Hawaii 24/7 Editor

The Pacific International Space Center for Exploration Systems has received $2.3 million to help attract NASA and other space agencies to the Big Island.

The funds include $1.8 million to begin plans for facility expansion and $500,000 for operations cost, said Rob Kelso, the new PISCES executive director.

While plans have yet to be complete, the money will kick start construction of a space technology research and development complex on the Big Island.

“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 said.

“PISCES, from its inception in 2007, has been focused rather narrowly on robotic analog training of robotic systems in high quality sites like Hawaii in preparation for eventual flights to other planetary surfaces,” he said.

Site selection could take a year, with construction to take at least an additional year.

Sen. Will Espero was among the lawmakers to introduce legislation for funding and transferring the agency from the University of Hawaii at Hilo to the state Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism.

“Going to the moon and back – there’s lots of excitement. PISCES potential is enormous,” he said. “There is no reason why Hawaii should not be ground zero for the aero-space industry and academia. You are now seeing the private sector getting more involved and it’s a logical choice to use Hawaii.”

Espero said, in addition to drawing new business, PISCES will offer new opportunities for Hawaii’s students and also will create high-tech jobs.

“We want to build long-term partnerships and provide a valuable resource for local business and economic development and education,” Kelso said. “For example, any new facility will feature public exhibits and education programs.”

State leaders and PISCES officials have identified four areas to explore — planetary surface robotics; in situ resource utilization; skylight and lava tube traversing; and habitation.

“While our near term objectives are in those four tech areas, the eventual plan is to develop a research park where industry can come in, locate and work and operate within an aerospace or economic zone on the Big Island,” Kelso said. “It’s just a couple of years before we re-engage, for the first time in 40 years, on the surface of the moon, and Hawaii can offer unique capabilities that aren’t available anywhere else to help them do that.”

PISCES announced the funding during its annual conference at the Waikoloa Beach Marriott Resort.

A Texas native, Kelso takes over as executive director following Frank Schowengerdt’s retirement. He is a former NASA Space Shuttle flight director who worked on 25 missions.

PISCES also has announced it will host special tests of 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.

Since founded in 2007, PISCES has hosted research and testing of space technology as well as forums.

It collaborates with government, education, business and cultural groups and has developed test sites on Mauna Kea’s slopes, which are ideal as the volcanic soil is similar to the surface of asteroids, the moon and Mars.

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The University of Alabama robot excavator. (Hawaii 24/7 photo by Karin Stanton)

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