Video courtesy PISCES, voice of Stephanie Salazar

Rover in the running for the Google Lunar-X Prize

WAIKOLOA, Hawaii: The Big Island-based Pacific International Space Center for Exploration Systems, or PISCES, is getting $2.3 million in states funds for its space research facilities.

The news was announced at a press event during the agency’s annual conference in Waikoloa on Tuesday.

$1.8 million will go towards the expansion of PISCES’ aerospace technology testing facilities and another $500,000 will go towards the center’s operations. By allocating financial support to PISCES, officials say 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 it began in 2007, PISCES has hosted a number of high profile research and testing events on the slopes of Mauna Kea, where the next generation of lunar robots, rovers and equipment were used to make air and water for survival on another planet. The terrain of of Hawaii’s tallest mountain is ideal because it is very similar to the surface of the moon or even Mars.

Also, a new director took the helm of PISCES.

Rob Kelso, former NASA Space Shuttle Flight Director at Johnson Space Center, accepted the PISCES job on Nov.1.

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.

After five years under the University of Hawaii-Hilo, the PISCES program was transferred to the State Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism in 2012.