Maui Plays an Important Role in Nation's Defense

By Jeanne Dailey / AFRL

KIRTLAND AIR FORCE BASE, New Mexico -- 

The Air Force Maui Optical and Supercomputing site STEM Outreach visit to the Maui Waena School. The photo shows the students in front to the AFRL portable, digital planetarium. The students received a tour of the night sky with a focus on stellar navigation techniques used by the Polynesian canoe Hōkūleʻa in its voyage home to Hawai'i.

The Air Force Maui Optical and Supercomputing site STEM Outreach visit to the Maui Waena School. The photo shows the students in front to the AFRL portable, digital planetarium. The students received a tour of the night sky with a focus on stellar navigation techniques used by the Polynesian canoe Hōkūleʻa in its voyage home to Hawai'i.

The Air Force Research Laboratory’s Air Force Maui Optical and Supercomputing (AMOS) site celebrated 50 years of operation in 2016. The site, home to the Department of Defense’s largest electro-optical telescope, opened in late 1966 as the Advanced Research Projects Agency’s Midcourse Optical Observatory Station at a time when the Air Force relied on radar as the main method of space surveillance.

Today the AMOS site provides premier space situational awareness for the nation through its advanced electro-optical telescopes located at the 10,000 foot summit of Haleakalā. 

“AFRL scientists and engineers are continually advancing the nation’s ability to know about and keep track of the locations and capabilities of man-made objects in space,” said Lieutenant Colonel Erik Stockham, the site’s commander. “The AMOS site plays a critical role in improving our situational awareness of the rapidly changing space environment.”

Under the leadership of AFRL’s Directed Energy Directorate on Kirtland Air Force Base New Mexico, the site consists of two locations that are used together to conduct space research and development. They are the Maui Space Surveillance Complex (MSSC) and the Maui High Performance Computing Center (MHPCC).

The MSSC operates state-of-art electro-optical sensors and telescopes to collect data on near-Earth and deep-space objects. MSSC includes the 3.6-meter, 75-ton Advanced Electro-Optical System telescope and several other telescopes ranging from 0.4 to 1.6-meters. The MHPCC provides high performance computing-backed solutions for high-priority defense programs and research projects. 

“In addition to its research and development activities, AFRL is also a good neighbor to the Maui Island community through its robust science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) program,” said scientist Ryan Swindle who manages the STEM program. “We are proud of our STEM efforts that have furthered local and national STEM education through a comprehensive kindergarten through 12th grade STEM outreach program.” 

“More than 1,000 students and teachers are impacted each year in programs that reach 100 percent of Maui County public schools,” said Swindle. “The programs include teacher development professional workshops and a STEM curriculum lending library that provides high quality STEM materials and equipment free of charge to local educators.” 

Face-to-face interaction with the students is probably the most important aspect of the AFRL STEM outreach efforts. “Our AFRL scientists and engineers are dedicated to providing students direct classroom support, supporting summer student camps and taking students on tours of our facilities,” Swindle said. “Besides our STEM activities on site, we also support STEM related community events and conferences.”

“In support of our STEM efforts, we are pleased to partner with a number of organizations on Maui to include the University of Hawai`i Institute for Astronomy, the University of Hawai’i Maui College, the Maui Economic Development Board and local high-tech organizations,” said Swindle. “The outreach program encourages educational paths that introduces students to STEM-oriented careers and promotes employment among the local population with island high-tech organizations.” 

“The AFRL team on Maui has a great appreciation for the amazing beauty and cultural and historic significance of Haleakalā,” said Colonel Heather Anderson, who leads the site’s parent division at Kirtland AFB. “We strictly observe environmental conservation programs that include protection of the Silversword plant, the Dark-rumped petrel, Hoary bat and the Hawaiian nēnē. Our team on Maui is committed to continuing to be a good steward of the environmental resources on Haleakalā. We recognize the cultural sensitivity of Haleakalā and native Hawaiian traditional practices. We look forward to continuing our partnership with the Maui Island community for many years to come."