The leadership of the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy, SOFIA, reached a decision that the observatory’s annual deployment to Christchurch, New Zealand, is not feasible this year, given ongoing concerns related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
A revised flight schedule is being coordinated to focus on high-priority celestial targets that can be studied from SOFIA’s base at NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center in Palmdale, Calif.
SOFIA observations were temporarily suspended effective March 19, 2020, in response to the COVID-19 situation. In the meantime, the SOFIA team has been preparing for a future return to flight through the formulation of new flight plans and will make that information available when it is finalized.
“Though we can’t fly to New Zealand this year, we are excited about leveraging new opportunities to observe from our base in California,” said Naseem Rangwala, SOFIA’s project scientist.
“As always, we are thankful to the New Zealand government, U.S. Antarctic Program, Christchurch Airport, German Aerospace Center and other partners for the extensive work and cooperation that went into evaluating options for a deployment this year. We value the scientific data we collect from Christchurch and look forward to returning in the future.”
SOFIA typically deploys to Christchurch, New Zealand, from approximately June to August each year to study celestial objects best viewed from the Southern Hemisphere and to take advantage of optimal observing conditions during the Southern Hemisphere’s winter months, including long nights. The observations that were scheduled to take place from New Zealand will be assessed for future deployments to the Southern Hemisphere. The SOFIA Science Center continues to be fully operational, supporting services such as data pipeline operations, helpdesk and user support.
SOFIA, the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy, is a Boeing 747SP jetliner modified to carry a 106-inch diameter telescope. It is a joint project of NASA and the German Aerospace Center, DLR. NASA’s Ames Research Center in California’s Silicon Valley manages the SOFIA program, science and mission operations in cooperation with the Universities Space Research Association headquartered in Columbia, Maryland, and the German SOFIA Institute at the University of Stuttgart. The aircraft is maintained and operated from NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center Building 703, in Palmdale, Calif.