Tech

August 14, 2013

SOFIA in New Zealand—Much attempted, much achieved

The SOFIA 747SP prepares for takeoff from Christchurch International Airport, New Zealand, on one of nine science missions to collect infrared astronomy data about the skies over the Southern Hemisphere.

 

Fly 6,900 miles each way, deploy a cadre of flight and ground crew members along with an international science team for three weeks, and during that time fly three nights per week, 10 hours per flight, all while conducting world-class science. It’s a lot to imagine, and even greater to have accomplished it all.

To meet our program goals set earlier this year, the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA) departed the United States on July 12 for the first leg of its deployment to Christchurch, New Zealand. Having stopped for a flight crew change and some Hawaiian hospitality from the good folks at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam outside of Honolulu, the observatory arrived the following morning at Christchurch where preparations began for the first of nine science missions.

Water vapor in the Earth’s atmosphere is extremely low during the winter months over the southern oceans, thus our decision to base the observatory at Christchurch. Contributing to that decision was the infrastructure provided by the U.S. Antarctic Program, which is operated by the National Science Foundation from the Christchurch International Airport. During our deployment, the NSF opened its facilities to us, and they, along with everyone at the Christchurch International Airport, were most gracious hosts.
 

SOFIA program manager Eddie Zavala welcomes home the SOFIA team from the program’s first deployment to the Southern Hemisphere.

 
While we were on New Zealand’s southern island, our team was supported by the U.S. State Department and U.S. Ambassador to New Zealand and Samoa David Huebner and his staff who are based in Wellington, the capital on the northern island. I’d also like to extend a special note of appreciation to all of the New Zealanders who were very interested in our mission and made our team feel most welcome.

For our flights from Christchurch we planned a series of observations using the German Receiver for Astronomy at Terahertz Frequencies that were proposed by a combination of guest astronomy investigators plus members of the GREAT consortium. Developed by a team from the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy, Bonn, Germany, the GREAT instrument is a spectrometer that detects the wave aspect rather than the particle aspect of infrared light. Among its many other capabilities, GREAT helps astronomers measure the chemical composition of star-forming regions and supernova remnants. For this deployment we spent the majority of our time observing the Milky Way Galaxy’s central regions and its companion dwarf galaxies known as the Magellanic Clouds.

Measuring the chemical composition of the interstellar medium in the Magellanic Clouds enables astronomers to infer conditions right after the “Big Bang” because the material of the clouds has not been recycled through many generations of stars forming and dying. Even though this material has been floating in space for millions of years, it is considered relatively “fresh” and in an unprocessed state. SOFIA’s access to this material means our observatory can, in effect, do cosmology research without the need to make measurements of galaxies billions of light years away. This capability is very exciting to our science staff and the worldwide astronomical community.
 

The German Receiver for Astronomy at Terahertz Frequencies (GREAT) is mounted on the SOFIA telescope for the program’s first deployment to investigate the skies over the Southern Hemisphere.

 
SOFIA’s deployment to New Zealand, completed on Aug. 2, was entirely successful and very important to our program. We demonstrated the capability to operate the world’s largest airborne astronomical observatory with high efficiency and reliability, achieving 100 percent of the planned science flights. By all accounts the quality of the scientific data was also outstanding. The international deployment team did an excellent job planning and safely executing every logistical and operational detail, and those of us “left behind” worked hard before and during the deployment to support them. Completing our first scientific deployment is a key accomplishment in our transition to becoming a fully operational observatory.

Congratulations to the entire team for this outstanding achievement. I am very happy to welcome them back home!

 

Editor’s Note: Zavala is program manager of the Stratospheric Observatory For Infrared Astronomy, or SOFIA, program at NASA’s Dryden Flight Research Center, Edwards, Calif. In this position, he is responsible for overall development and operation of the SOFIA Science Center at Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif., and the airborne observatory, which features a German-built 2.5-meter infrared telescope mounted in a highly modified Boeing 747SP aircraft based at the Dryden Aircraft Operations Facility in Palmdale, Calif. The program, a cooperative effort between NASA’s Dryden and Ames research centers and DLR, the German Aerospace Center, is the agency’s next-generation airborne observatory, giving astronomers routine access to the infrared and sub-millimeter portions of the electromagnetic spectrum of the universe.

 




All of this week's top headlines to your email every Friday.


 
 

 

NASA signs agreement with German, Canadian partners to test alternative fuels

NASA has signed separate agreements with the German Aerospace Center (DLR) and the National Research Council of Canada (NRC) to conduct a series of joint flight tests to study the atmospheric effects of emissions from jet engines burning alternative fuels. The Alternative Fuel Effects on Contrails and Cruise Emissions (ACCESS II) flights are set to...
 
 
afrc-x56c

X-56A testbed arrives at NASA Armstrong Flight Research Center

NASA photograph by Ken Ulbrich The diminutive X-56A Multi-Use Technology Testbed, mounted on a small trailer, is pulled away from its home for the past year, Hangar 4305 at Edwards’ North Base. The latest in a long series...
 
 
NASA photograph by Tony Landis

Recalling a record: X-43A Scramjet set new hypersonic record a decade ago

NASA photograph by Jim Ross The second X-43A hypersonic research aircraft and its modified Pegasus booster rocket accelerate into the stratosphere after launch from NASA’s B-52B launch aircraft over the Pacific Ocean on M...
 

 

NASA begins search for potential SOFIA partners

NASA issued a Request for Information March 31 soliciting potential partners interested in using the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy aircraft for scientific investigations or for other potential uses. NASA’s fiscal year 2015 budget request to Congress calls for SOFIA to be placed in storage next year unless the agency’s contribution to the project can...
 
 
NASA photograph by Carla Thomas

LVAC: Advancing technology readiness of SLS adaptive controls

NASA photograph by Carla Thomas NASA Armstrong’s highly modified F/A-18A Full Scale Advanced Systems Testbed aircraft No. 853 validated the effectiveness of the Adaptive Augmenting Controller developed by NASA Marshall en...
 
 

DARPAs role to change whats possible, director says

As part of the Defense Department’s science and technology community, the role of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency is to change what’s possible, the DARPA director said March 26. DARPA makes pivotal early investments that allow the department to “take big steps forward in our national security capabilities, Arati Prabhakar told members of the...
 




0 Comments


Be the first to comment!


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>