Hutt telescope to zero in on asteroids

21:08, Mar 10 2013
Jimi Romeril
FAR-OFF SIGHTS: Jimi Romeril, an optical engineer with KiwiStar Optics in Seaview, Lower Hutt, holding a test lens.

An American professor searching the solar system for asteroids that might hit Earth has set his sights on Lower Hutt.

John Tonry, of the University of Hawaii, has approached telescope and lens-maker KiwiStar Optics to help build a Nasa-funded telescope dubbed Atlas.

It is intended to spot mid-sized space rocks similar to the one that struck the Chelyabinsk region in southern Russia last month.

Professor Tonry said the telescope, which would survey the entire sky a couple of times a night, would provide warning of potential strikes a week to a month in advance.

He has designed the telescope, and said he had begun talks with KiwiStar to build it.

"One of the best companies in the world is KiwiStar," he said.

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KiwiStar Optics chief executive Chelydra Percy said the project was still very much in its infancy.

"We've put in our response last week and they came back really excited by what they'd seen."

The company's optics fabrication manager, Dave Cochrane, said it was one of the world's few "one-stop shops" in optical manufacturing that could provide casings, mount telescopes and produce lenses.

Ms Percy said the project's ambitious time frame, with a proposed mid-2014 completion date, meant KiwiStar's involvement might be limited. "He might farm out different elements to different manufacturers, so we may be one of three or four or five different manufacturers."

Costing for the project ultimately depended on the design, but bigger projects could attract multimillion-dollar contracts, she said. "We haven't costed this project yet . . . but some of these big-number projects we are regularly quoting US$1 million to US$3m."

The Dominion Post