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Hawaii Supreme Court gives the go-ahead to controversial Thirty Meter Telescope

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After years of delay, including lengthy court battles and passionate protests from those willing to be arrested for blocking construction crews, builders of a giant telescope plan to move forward with constructing the $1.4 billion instrument on a Hawaii mountain that is considered sacred.

The state Supreme Court’s 4–1 ruling upholding the project’s construction permit Tuesday is a victory for the contentious Thirty Meter Telescope — a collaboration between Canada, the U.S., Japan, China and India — planned for Hawaii’s tallest mountain, Mauna Kea. Opponents say the telescope will desecrate sacred land on the Big Island. Supporters say it will bring educational and economic opportunities to the state.

Astronomy and Native Hawaiian “uses on Mauna Kea have co-existed for many years and the TMT Project will not curtail or restrict Native Hawaiian uses,” the ruling said. The advanced telescope will answer some of the most fundamental questions of the universe, and Native Hawaiians will also benefit from it, the ruling added.

Associate Justice Michael Wilson dissented but didn’t immediately release his opinion.

Further legal action is still possible, state Attorney General Russell Suzuki said. There can be a motion for reconsideration filed within 10 days and following that, a request can be made to the U.S. Supreme Court to review the decision, he said.

Kealoha Pisciotta, one of the main leaders against the telescope, said she’s doesn’t know what their next steps will be, but she’s not hopeful that more legal wrangling will help.

Learn about Canada’s involvement in the Thirty Meter Telescope.

Mike Gedig heads the engineering team at Dynamic Structures 6:31

“The court is the last bastion in democracy,” she said. “The only other option is to take to the streets. If we lose the integrity of the court, then you’re losing normal law and order, and the only other option is people have to rise up.”

Opponents and supporters have been awaiting the ruling because it was expected to help determine whether the project is built in Hawaii or moves to a backup location in Spain’s Canary Islands that is less desirable to scientists hoping to use the instrument for groundbreaking discoveries.

Henry Yang, chair of the TMT International Observatory Board of Governors, said in a statement they are grateful the ruling will allow the telescope to be built on Mauna Kea.

Gov. David Ige, who said he is pleased with the ruling, vowed to protect rights of protesters and telescope builders. “The court’s decision will allow Hawaii to continue to lead the world in astronomy,” Ige said.

Moving forward

State Department of Land and Natural Resources Chairwoman Suzanne Case said the next steps involve telescope builders submitting construction plans. The department will review the plans before issuing permission to proceed.

Plans for the project date to 2009, when scientists selected Mauna Kea after a five-year, around-the-world campaign to find the ideal site.

The project won a series of approvals from Hawaii, including a permit to build on conservation land in 2011.

Protests disrupted a groundbreaking and Hawaiian blessing ceremony at the site in 2014. After that, the protests intensified.

In this June 24, 2015 file photo, Thirty Meter Telescope protesters walk on a road during a blockade that prevented TMT construction vehicles from driving up to the summit of Mauna Kea near Hilo on the island of Hawaii in Hawaii. (Holly Johnson/Associated Press)

Construction stopped in April 2015 after 31 protesters were arrested for blocking the work. A second attempt to restart construction a few months later ended with more arrests and crews retreating when they encountered large boulders in the road.

Scientists revere the mountain for its summit above the clouds that provides a clear view of the sky with very little air and light pollution.

The telescope will allow astronomers to reach back 13 billion years to answer fundamental questions about the advent of the universe, touts a website for the project.

In December 2015, the state Supreme Court revoked the permit, ruling the land board’s approval process was flawed. That meant the application process needed to be redone, requiring a new hearing.

After oftentimes emotional testimony for the hearing that spanned 44 days, the retired judge presiding over the proceeding recommended granting the permit.

Opponents appealed again after the land board approved the permit. They complained about various due process issues, including that the hearings officer had a conflict of interest because she was a member of a Big Island astronomy centre.

The connection was “too attenuated,” and membership doesn’t lead to supporting the telescope, Tuesday’s Supreme Court ruling said.

A group of universities in California and Canada make up the telescope company, with partners from China, India and Japan. The instrument’s primary mirror would measure 30 metres in diameter. Compared with the largest existing visible-light telescope in the world, it would be three times as wide, with nine times more area.

Telescope parts have been built in California and partner countries while construction on Mauna Kea was halted.

Reactions to the ruling from two Native Hawaiians showed how the issue has divided the community.

Telescope opponent Kahookahi Kanuha, who was arrested twice for blocking construction, said Hawaiians need to be ready to resist construction with non-violent protests. He had a message for them: “Hoomakaukau,” get ready.

Richard Ha, a Native Hawaiian farmer who supports the telescope, said the long process that led to the ruling was “pono,” or righteous. He said he wants to sit down with opponents, “talk story” and find common ground.

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The ‘Maple Majestic’ wants to be Canada’s homegrown Tesla

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Look out Tesla, Canada has a homegrown electric sedan on the way. Well, that’s if AK International Motor Corporation can drum up enough investment to make its EV a reality. Dubbed the “Maple Majestic,” the vehicle is a battery-electric designed to “excel in extreme climate performance without adversely affecting the climate, as befits a vehicle from Canada,” according to its website.

What’s in a name? — The company says the maple leaf is a “symbol of Canada’s warmth and friendliness towards all cultures,” while “majestic” refers to the country’s “status as a Constitutional Monarchy.”

That patriotism carries over into Maple Majestic’s parent company’s lofty goals. AK Motor founder Arkadiusz Kaminski says he wants the company, which he founded in 2012, to become “Canada’s first multi-brand automotive OEM,” and that the “Maple Majestic is intended to be Canada’s flagship brand of automobiles on the world stage.”

Partnerships are key — “We acknowledge that the best chance for the Maple Majestic brand to succeed, lies in continuing to build the relationship with Canada’s parts suppliers and technological innovators, whether they be academic institutions, corporations, or individual inventors,” the company explains. “We are currently seeking partners in automotive engineering, parts manufacturing, automotive assembly, electric propulsion technology, battery technology, autonomous technology, and hybrid power generation technology.”

In other words, don’t expect to be able to buy a Maple Majestic any time soon… and don’t expect to pour over 0-60 mph times, power output, range, or other key stats, because those don’t currently exist. For now, all we have are pictures and a short video clip. But at least those are arresting.

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PE-backed Quorum Software to merge with Canadian energy tech firm

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Houston-based energy technology company Quorum Software will merge with a Canadian tech firm to bolster its presence in oil and gas services.

Quorum announced Feb. 15 it plans to merge with Calgary, Alberta-based Aucerna, a global provider of planning, execution and reserves software for the energy sector. The combined firm will operate under the Quorum Software brand.

Gene Austin, CEO of Quorum Software, will continue in his capacity as chief executive of the combined firm. Austin, former CEO of Austin-based marketing tech firm Bazaarvoice Inc., became CEO of Quorum in December 2018.

Aucerna co-founder and CEO Wayne Sim will be appointed to the Quorum Software board of directors. Both companies are backed by San Francisco- and Chicago-based private equity firm Thoma Bravo.

“Over the last 20 years, Quorum has become the leading innovator of software deployed by North American energy companies,” said Austin. “Today, Quorum is expanding the scope of our technology and expertise to all energy-producing regions of the globe. Customers everywhere will have access to a cloud technology ecosystem that connects decision-ready data from operations to the boardroom.”

In addition to the merger announcement, Quorum Software announced it had entered into an agreement with Finnish IT firm TietoEvry to purchase TietoEvry’s entire oil and gas business. The agreement, which includes hydrocarbon management, personnel and material logistics software and related services, is valued at 155 million euros, or $188 million, according to a statement from TietoEvry.

“Our three organizations complement each other — from the software that our great people design to the energy markets where we operate,” said Sim. “Our new company will be able to deliver value to our stakeholders, while accelerating the growth of our combined business and the energy industry’s software transformation.”

The combined company will serve over 1,800 energy companies in 55 countries, according to the announcement. With its headquarters in Houston, Quorum will continue to have a significant presence in Calgary and in Norway, the headquarters for TietoEvry’s oil and gas software business. Quorum will have other offices throughout North America, Latin America, Europe, Asia and the Middle East.

As of Sept. 30, 2020, private equity firm Thoma Bravo had more than $73 billion in assets under management. In late December 2020, Thoma Bravo agreed to acquire Richardson, Texas-based tech firm RealPage in a roughly $10 billion acquisition.

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Piece of Kitchener technology lands on Mars on Perseverance rover

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KITCHENER — A piece of Kitchener technology has landed on Mars, thanks to NASA’s Perseverance rover.

The rover settled on the planet’s surface on Thursday afternoon. It’s been travelling through space since it was launched from Cape Canaveral, Fla. in July.

“The whole idea of being on a device that we’re sending to another plant with the express mission of looking for traces of past life, it’s pretty mind boggling actually,” said Rafal Pawluczyk, chief technical officer for FiberTech Optica.

The Kitchener-based company made fibre optic cables for the rover’s SuperCam that will examine samples with a camera, laser and spectrometers.

“The cables that we built take the light from that multiplexer and deliver it to each spectrograph,” Pawluczyk said.

The cables connect a device on the rover to the SuperCam, which will be used to examine rock and soil samples, to spectrometers. They’ll relay information from one device to another.

The project started four years ago with a connection to Los Alamos National Lab, where the instruments connected to the cables were developed.

“We could actually demonstrate we can design something that will meet their really hard engineering requirements,” Pawluczyk said.

The Jezero Crater is where the Perseverance rover, with FiberTech Optica’s technology onboard, landed Thursday. Scientists believe it was once flooded with water and is the best bet for finding any evidence of life. FiberTech’s cables will help that in that search.

Ioannis Haranas, an astrophysicist and professor at Wilfrid Laurier University, said the rover isn’t looking for “green men.”

“They’re looking for microbial, single-cell life, any type of fossils and stuff like that,” Haranas said. “That’s why they chose a special landing site. This could be very fertile land for that.”

“It’s very ambitious,” said Ralf Gellert, a physics professor at the University of Guelph.

Gellert helped with previous rover missions and said it’s the first time a Mars rover has landed without a piece of Guelph technology on it. While he’s not part of Perseverance’s mission, he said the possibilities are exciting.

“Every new landing site is a new piece of the puzzle that you can put together with the new results that we have from the other landing sites,” he said.

“It’s scientifically very interesting because, even though we don’t have an instrument on that rover, we can compare what the new rover Perseverance finds at this new landing site,” he said.

Now that Perseverance has landed on Mars, FiberTech is looking ahead to its next possible mission into space.

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