Tech

January 8, 2014

FIFI-LS Spectrometer Readied for NASA’s SOFIA Observatory

Christian Fischer, from the University of Stuttgart’s Institute for Space Systems, works on the Field-Imaging Far-Infrared Line Spectrometer, or FIFI-LS, in the NASA SOFIA science laboratory prior to testing in preparation for the first observing flights in spring 2014.

The Field-Imaging Far-Infrared Line Spectrometer instrument was shipped from Germany to the Dryden Aircraft Operations Facility in Palmdale, Calif., in November 2013.

After the instrument arrived at the Dryden facility, several months of preparations began for its operation aboard SOFIA, NASA’s Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy.

The first science observing flights with FIFI-LS are currently scheduled for March 2014.

Being a so-called 3-D spectrometer, FIFI-LS uses SOFIA’s valuable observing time in a quite efficient way by obtaining images and spectroscopic information simultaneously using a rather complicated mirror system. Only the huge amount of information gathered by FIFI-LS may allow astronomers to identify and understand particular physical processes in the universe. Working at a wavelength range between 45 and 210 microns, the instrument can investigate the interstellar medium and star formation regions in our Milky Way as well as in other nearby galaxies.

FIFI-LS was originally developed by the Max-Planck-Institut Für Extraterrestrische Physik in Garching, Germany under the leadership of Albrecht Poglitsch, but was transferred to Alfred Krabbe’s group at the Institute for Space Systems of the University of Stuttgart in Germany in September. During the past few years, project manager Sebastian Colditz and his team finalized, integrated and aligned the last optical components in the SOFIA laboratory facility of the Baden-Württemberg Space Center before the completed instrument was transformed into flight-certified hardware. In the most extreme case, FIFI-LS might have to endure nine times the force of gravity on Earth’s surface; hence NASA has very high flight safety requirements that must be fulfilled.

FIFI-LS was cooled seven times by liquid nitrogen and helium down to a temperature of minus 271°C to test all components under operating conditions.

Christian Fischer checks the FIFI-LS that is cooled by liquid nitrogen and helium during testing. The University of Stuttgart 3D spectrometer will investigate the interstellar medium and star formation regions of the Milky Way when installed in the SOFIA flying observatory.

During the last two weeks of October, Colditz and his colleagues were quite busy — some last plugs had to be brazed, screws had to be tightened again, and finally the instrument and some laboratory equipment had to be stored safely for transportation. On Oct. 29 the so-called “Pre-shipment Review Board“ led by the German Aerospace Center (DLR) declared: “All-clear! FIFI-LS is ready for shipment to California.” All in all, about two tons of equipment was shipped to the Dryden facility in Palmdale, Calif., arriving the last week of November.

Principal investigator Alfred Krabbe and his colleagues will be busy conducting final tests on the ground as well as on SOFIA to make FIFI-LS ready for its first flight on board the airborne observatory. The first commissioning flights for FIFI-LS on board SOFIA are currently scheduled for February 2014 when the instrument will record its “first light”.

SOFIA is a joint project of NASA and the DLR. The aircraft is based at the Dryden Aircraft Operations Facility in Palmdale, Calif., a satellite facility of NASA’s Dryden Flight Research Center, which manages the SOFIA program. NASA’s Ames Research Center at Moffett Field, Calif., manages SOFIA science and mission operations in cooperation with the Universities Space Research Association, headquartered in Columbia, Md., and the German SOFIA Institute at the University of Stuttgart.




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