Tech

June 4, 2014

NASA declares SOFIA Observatory fully operational

The door to the SOFIA observatory’s 2.5-meter telescope is wide open during a developmental test flight in 2010.

On June 2, 2014, during the 224th meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Boston, Mass., Paul Hertz, NASA’s Astrophysics Division director, announced that the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy has passed its Key Decision Point E and been transitioned into the operational phase.

“We have now formally completed the development phase of SOFIA and declared the observatory operational. That’s the equivalent of a launch for a space mission,” said Hertz.

The technical criteria for SOFIA’s transition to its operational phase were met in February 2014, and NASA’s formal review was completed on May 29. Prior to the KDP-E declaration last week, SOFIA demonstrated an impressive rate of science operations in April/May by flying 14 flights, encompassing more than 100 successful science mission hours, in 30 days.

In parallel with the mission milestone, commissioning flights for the observatory’s fifth instrument, the Field-Imaging Far-Infrared Line Spectrometer, were completed in April, and flights to commission SOFIA’s sixth instrument, the Echelon-Cross Echelle Spectrograph, began later that month.

As commissioning work continues with EXES, a pair of second-generation instruments / instrument upgrades continue development. An American-built instrument, the High-resolution Airborne Wideband Camera-Plus (HAWC+), a far-infrared camera with polarized light detection capabilities that began development at the University of Chicago, is nearing completion at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California. A set of enhancements, dubbed “upGREAT” to the German Receiver for Astronomy at Terahertz Frequencies (GREAT) spectrometer, will further enhance that instrument’s already impressive performance.

SOFIA is a joint project of NASA and the German Aerospace Center. The aircraft is based at the NASA Armstrong Flight Research CenterĂ­s facility in Palmdale, Calif. NASA Armstrong Flight Research Center manages the program. NASA Ames Research Center at Moffett Field, Calif., manages the 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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