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ToSeek
2004-Sep-13, 04:16 PM
Airborne observatory sees stars for first time (http://www.spaceflightnow.com/news/n0409/12sofia/)


For the first time, scientists have peered at the stars using the newly installed telescope aboard NASA's Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA), the largest airborne observatory in the world.

Harvestar
2004-Sep-13, 09:56 PM
Cool! I've been awaiting this for a long time. I first heard about SOFIA in detail in Jan. 2000.

ToSeek
2006-Feb-09, 05:00 PM
Airborne Observatory Completes Major Aircraft Physical Modifications; SOFIA Flight Tests to Begin Fall 2006 (http://www.spaceref.com/news/viewpr.html?pid=18977)


The Universities Space Research Association (USRA) announced today that its teammate L-3 Communications Integrated Systems has completed all major physical modifications required for initial flight-testing of NASA's Stratospheric Observatory For Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA).

Launch window
2006-Feb-11, 07:11 AM
this mission seems like a great idea

Launch window
2006-Feb-14, 05:25 AM
some bad news

SOFIA Stratospheric Astronomy Telescope In Doubt
http://www.spacedaily.com/reports/SOFIA_Stratospheric_Astronomy_Telescope_In_Doubt.h tml
NASA's newest airborne observatory is scheduled to begin test flights this fall, assuming no technical glitches emerge, but its status in fiscal year 2007 remains highly in doubt, the agency's new budget proposal shows.
The uncertainty surrounding the Stratospheric Observatory For Infrared Astronomy - also known as SOFIA - emerged Monday, when NASA unveiled its budget request for FY 2007. Although the project was budgeted at $48 million for FY 2006, NASA has cut that figure to zero in FY 2007 and beyond.

Launch window
2006-Feb-14, 09:53 AM
NASA leaves jumbo-jet telescope on the runway
http://www.newscientistspace.com/article/dn8712-nasa-leaves-jumbojet-telescope-on-the-runway.html
Mission managers on the SOFIA project to fly an infrared telescope aboard a 747 aircraft, are fighting to prevent the project's abandonment under NASA’s budget cuts.

ToSeek
2006-Jun-15, 09:02 PM
NASA Astronomical Observatory Passes Hurdle (http://www.physorg.com/news69605425.html)


NASA's Program Management Council concluded that there were no insurmountable technical or programmatic challenges to the continued development of the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA). The agency has developed a technically viable plan to proceed with the development of the SOFIA aircraft, subject to the identification of appropriate funding offsets.

Earlier this year, the decision had been made to discontinue funding in fiscal year 2007 as a result of technical, programmatic, and budget challenges affecting the program. The NASA Program Management Council is chaired by NASA Associate Administrator Rex Geveden and comprised of NASA headquarters and center senior management.

"We placed the program on hold last February because of programmatic and technical issues," said Geveden. "Since that time, we have thoroughly reviewed the program and now are confident that SOFIA can resolve those issues. However, it is not yet clear whether SOFIA represents the best investment of space science funding, and we will need to consider funding options and sources before we decide to continue the mission."

ToSeek
2006-Jul-10, 06:38 PM
SIM To Bear Cost of Resurrecting SOFIA (http://www.space.com/spacenews/060710_business_monday.html)


With NASA deciding to press ahead with the SOFIA airborne astronomy observatory, another mission—an expensive planet-hunting spacecraft in development for more than a decade—is being scaled back to a mere technology-development program.

The BA talks more about this here. (http://www.badastronomy.com/bablog/2006/07/07/sofia-lives/)

ToSeek
2006-Oct-18, 04:48 PM
SOFIA Reborn: High-Flying Observatory Faces Years of Flight Tests (http://www.space.com/businesstechnology/061018_techwed_sofia.html)


After a brush with cancellation early this year, the U.S.-German SOFIA flying astronomical observatory has a new lease on life and a fresh paint job. But before the telescope-equipped jetliner can begin initial science operations, NASA says it must first undergo several years of intensive flight testing.

The Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA), in development for the past decade, is slated to take to the skies for the first time this winter. The modified Boeing 747 [image] is due to make a series of brief checkout flights over Waco, Texas, before departing by late February for its new home at NASA’s Dryden Flight Research Center north of Los Angeles.

NASA intends to spend at least three years putting the SOFIA aircraft through its paces before allowing researchers to use the flying observatory’s German-supplied infrared telescope [image] for the first time. Observation time, however, is expected to be limited until NASA completes another two years of flight testing and declares SOFIA operational.

Ray Taylor, the NASA program executive for SOFIA, said full-fledged science operations could begin as soon as 2012 assuming the final two years of shakedown flights go well.

Doodler
2006-Oct-18, 09:52 PM
I disagree with their assertion that the opening represents the largest on a 747 in flight.

http://www.hawaii.gov/dot/publicaffairs/presskits/hnl/incidents.htm


February 24, 1989 A United Airlines plane made an emergency landing at Honolulu, after a section of the Boeing 747 fuselage tore off in mid-flight. The flight originated in Los Angeles and was destined for Sydney, Australia, with stops in Honolulu and Auckland. The plane landed safely at HIA. Nine people were swept from the plane. One attendant and 20 of the 336 passengers were injured.

I wouldn't call it comfortable by any stretch of the imagination, but the aircraft did maintain airworthiness till landing.

Doodler
2006-Oct-18, 10:00 PM
From a different accident that landed safely. This one a 737.

http://www.corrosion-doctors.org/Aircraft/images/Aloha.jpg

Now I agree doing it intentionally is a somewhat different ball of wax, but its not as if it's not been done before.

Kaptain K
2006-Oct-19, 02:53 PM
FIVE years of flight tests? If the Air Force operated on that kind of schedule, the P-51 would still be our frontline fighter!

ToSeek
2007-Jan-04, 06:09 PM
SOFIA Update: Airborne Telescope Tests Continue (http://www.space.com/searchforlife/070104_sofia_update.html)


The SOFIA telescope is already functioning and has been used for optical test observations of Polaris from the L-3 runway apron. In September 2006 SOFIA taxied under its own power for the first time since arriving in Waco in 1997. Both low- and high-speed taxi tests have been done, as well as full power engine run-ups. Later that month, upgrades were completed to a critical bulkhead in the tail. The plane has now received its flight-worthy paint job, with registered "tail number" N747NA.

ToSeek
2007-Apr-27, 07:17 PM
Picture: NASA flies world’s largest airborne observatory (http://www.flightglobal.com/articles/2007/04/27/213521/picture-nasa-flies-worlds-largest-airborne-observatory.html)


A new infrared telescope has taken to the air in an extensively modified Boeing 747 under NASA’s Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA) programme.

The telescope, weighing 20 tonnes, was designed and built by Germany’s Aerospace Centre, the DLR, and fitted to the aircraft in what are described by prime contractor L-3 Communications as “the most dramatic physical modifications ever made to a 747”.

ToSeek
2007-May-14, 08:35 PM
NASA's SOFIA to be Rededicated on Historic Lindbergh Anniversary (http://www.nasa.gov/home/hqnews/2007/may/HQ_M07052_SOFIA_event.html)


On May 21, Charles Lindbergh's grandson Erik will help NASA dedicate a special 747 astronomy aircraft to the trailblazing aviator. May 21 is the 80th anniversary of Lindbergh's historic solo New York-to-Paris flight. The ceremony will take place at 9 a.m. CDT, at the Texas State Technical College Airport in Waco.

The unique Stratospheric Observatory For Infrared Astronomy, or SOFIA, incorporates a 98.4 inch infrared telescope mounted in a highly modified Boeing 747SP aircraft. The airborne observatory is a partnership between NASA and the German Aerospace Center. Lindbergh's grandson will rededicate the aircraft, called "Clipper Lindbergh," during the event. Lindbergh recreated his grandfather's solo transatlantic crossing in 2002. Along with program managers and scientists, he will be available for live video interviews at the SOFIA aircraft.

The SOFIA 747 was originally christened by Anne Morrow Lindbergh, widow of the famous aviator, when it began service as an airliner in 1977. The plane has a 16-foot-high door in the aft fuselage that will open, allowing the 45,000-pound telescope to capture astronomical data in the infrared spectrum at altitudes that could exceed 40,000 feet. By flying above 90 percent of the Earth's atmospheric water vapor, SOFIA will significantly exceed the capabilities of infrared observatories on Earth.

01101001
2008-Jan-15, 07:03 PM
San Jose Mercury News: SOFIA to open door on new era of astronomy (http://origin.mercurynews.com/news/ci_7974831?nclick_check=1)

It's so nice to see most of the first page of the local-news section filled with an astronomy story, with several big pictures. It helps to have NASA Ames in the area, and Sofia will fly out of Palmdale, but be managed out of Ames.


On Monday, what NASA calls the "world's largest airborne observatory" flew into the Bay Area and caught the eye of Peninsula residents - some of whom wondered if perhaps the president were on board. He wasn't - but a 44,100-pound telescope was, and officials at the NASA/Ames Research Center in Mountain View enthusiastically showed off the massive aircraft they hope will one day help them discover the origin of life.

Called the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy - or SOFIA for short - the former PanAm commercial airliner has been fully renovated, refurbished and rigged with a reflecting telescope similar to the Hubble Space Telescope.

Early next year, the modified Boeing 747SP is expected to take off from an airfield in Palmdale just northeast of Los Angeles and travel to an altitude of more than 45,000 feet - thousands of feet above the typical airliner - at speeds of over 600 mph, ushering in a new era of astronomy.

NASA SOFIA Mission Pages (http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/SOFIA/index.html)

http://www.nasa.gov/images/content/207096main_sofia_ED07-0100-11_226px.jpg (http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/SOFIA/index.html)

Kaptain K
2008-Jan-15, 09:43 PM
Minor (very minor) nit pick. First light refers to first use as an observatory. That hasn't happened yet. Later this year. This is more "first landing at home field".

George
2008-Jan-15, 10:32 PM
It ought to look like this when ready, right? ;)

Don't forget Helios, though the outhouse is indoors on SOFIA.

When birds were consulted regarding these flights they expressed a favorable response.

George
2008-Jan-15, 10:54 PM
The ceremony will take place at 9 a.m. CDT, at the Texas State Technical College Airport in Waco.
That might be worth going to. Just watching it land on a their 150 ft. wide runway should be interesting enough. [The 747 wing span is 195 ft.]

ngc3314
2008-Jan-16, 05:11 PM
From a different accident that landed safely. This one a 737.



That's the Aloha flight to Honolulu, isn't it? I would hesitate to do such deep thread-dredging, but if it hasn't been brought up before, this is too good a piece of lore to pass up. One of the people on that flight was Eric Becklin - who is now SOFIA director!

George
2008-Jan-16, 10:09 PM
Wow, I wonder how much it had to do with the idea for SOFIA?

But you're correct....http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,149181,00.html

"In theory, a Boeing 737 with roughly one-third of its roof blown off should not be able to fly. As Aloha 243 abruptly lost altitude, passengers began singing hymns and bracing for a crash. "I was quite sure we weren't going to make it," said Becklin, a University of Hawaii astronomer, who told of ducking his head to avoid the debris streaming from the remnants of the fuselage. "The plane was disintegrating so pieces were falling off it, molding was coming down, and the wind was catching it. The hole up front got bigger and bigger, and I knew it was just a matter of time before the plane came apart."

Doodler
2008-Jan-16, 10:26 PM
That's the Aloha flight to Honolulu, isn't it? I would hesitate to do such deep thread-dredging, but if it hasn't been brought up before, this is too good a piece of lore to pass up. One of the people on that flight was Eric Becklin - who is now SOFIA director!

Someone actually brought that to my attention within a day of my posting it, via PM. Don't have it anymore, so I'm unable to attribute credit for it. Thought it was kind of a karmic curveball, myself.

01101001
2009-Dec-20, 09:26 PM
SOFIA Science Center news release (http://www.sofia.usra.edu/News/news_2009/12_18_09/index.html):


SOFIA reached a milestone Friday when doors covering the plane’s telescope were fully opened in flight.

The Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy, a modified 747 jet known as SOFIA, flew for one hour and 19 minutes, which included two minutes with the telescope’s doors fully opened. The goal was to allow engineers to understand how air flows in and around the telescope. It was the first time outside air has interacted with the part of the plane that carries the 98-inch infrared telescope.

http://www.sofia.usra.edu/News/news_2009/12_18_09/images/SOFIA_Door_Open_sm.jpg

OE_Eric
2010-Jan-14, 05:02 AM
This is really cool! I'm the ops lead on the platform side of things on this airplane and I was the guy who had the job of opening and closing the door on the flights we did last year. I've been on the project since late 2006 when Dryden was brought in to help the team. Back then I was travelling back and forth to Waco, TX helping in several areas to get it to first flight back in April of 2007. We flew it a total of 12 times in Waco and out of Edwards between then and January of 2008. Then we had a rough down-time full of challenges that finally culminated in these flights last month.

This will be a great year for SOFIA. We will expand the open door envelope so we can bring non-test personnel onboard, get a "first light" flight, expand the envelope a little more and then start getting some (limited, I'm told) actual science. There is still a lot of work to be done (I have to get up early tomorrow because we are still trying to fly twice this week--weather kept us down today), and some technical challenges to overcome but I can't wait to see how it all works out...then maybe some of you can explain to this rather dim flight test engineer what it is we are seeing. :)

CJSF
2010-Jan-14, 06:02 AM
That's great, Eric! Welcome to BAUT!

CJSF

01101001
2010-Jan-14, 06:28 AM
This is really cool!

When are you taking a dog on a flight so it can stick its head out the window?

Welcome to BAUT Forum.

George
2010-Jan-14, 03:24 PM
Great to hear from you, Eric. Thanks for the first-hand report.

I have offered a couple of designs for flying observatories that you might enjoy seeing. Here (http://www.bautforum.com/astronomy/13305-first-light-sofia.html#post1152671) ;)

ToSeek
2010-Apr-28, 07:41 PM
SOFIA Observatory Nearing 'First-Light' Astronomy Missions (http://www.spaceref.com/news/viewsr.rss.html?pid=33988)


Scientists and technicians are preparing NASA's long-awaited Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy – or SOFIA –for its first science mission, when the high-tech flying telescope will gather "first light" imagery and data.

Media representatives had an opportunity to learn more about the airborne observatory April 20 at NASA's Dryden Aircraft Operations Facility in Palmdale, Calif., where the highly modified Boeing 747SP housing a 17-ton infrared telescope is based.

“Behind me is a near Hubble-class observatory here in California. It's pretty amazing. It will soon bring world-class scientists [to the program] and unlock some of the mysteries of the universe,” said Bob Meyer, NASA's SOFIA program manager.

The SOFIA is unique not only because it incorporates the world's largest infrared airborne telescope in its rear fuselage, but also because it will fly above more than 99 percent of the water vapor in Earth’s atmosphere, which obscures visibility for ground-based infrared telescopes. Researchers also will use the telescope to peer through space dust to reveal some secrets that will “open the infrared window to the universe,” Meyer added.

Because the SOFIA will take off and land from the ground, the latest science instruments can be used and substituted as they become available, unlike space telescopes that lack the same ease of access.

01101001
2010-May-29, 12:26 AM
First light. Again.

BA Blog: Giant airplane-mounted telescope sees first light! (http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/badastronomy/2010/05/28/giant-airplane-mounted-telescope-sees-first-light/)


Very cool news: the flying infrared observatory, SOFIA (Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy) — which has been in the works for many years — has seen first light. What’s remarkable about this observatory is that it’s mounted in a hole in the side of a 747!

George
2010-May-29, 11:14 PM
Great news! Congrats to them all.

Glom
2010-May-30, 09:01 AM
A bit funny to see the news posted six years ago reappearing here. They got there eventually.

swampyankee
2010-May-30, 12:10 PM
FIVE years of flight tests? If the Air Force operated on that kind of schedule, the P-51 would still be our frontline fighter!

Five years does seem a bit excessive, but multi-year flight test programs are not unheard of for military projects. Do a flight, analyze the data, do another flight.

OE_Eric
2010-May-30, 09:38 PM
Hi all, I was on here earlier this year. In my 4 years with this project I have seen a number of ups and downs, but Tuesday was one of those days that was totally worth it. Due to some of the typical last minute things that arise when operating an old airplane that has been modified into a one of a kind platform it kept us on the aircraft operations side jumping through hoops right until minutes before takeoff. It was worth it after seeing the scientists reaction to how well everything went. We still have a lot to do, but we will be doing more science flights during the October/November time frame.

A quick comment on this quote by Kaptain K:

"FIVE years of flight tests? If the Air Force operated on that kind of schedule, the P-51 would still be our frontline fighter!"

Actually, most modern developments take much longer than five years. Remember the JSF flyoffs back in 2001? The Air Force and Navy are just now starting flight test and I'd be surprised if it was deployed in any real numbers before 2015.

However, that isn't exactly what we are doing. We are integrating flight test, major systems development and integration, limited observing (which in my simple flight test engineer's mind equal airborne systems tests) and early science. We actually have a very streamlined approach to flight test. The real challenge is getting the airplane, telescope and various mission systems to act like an observatory. This, sadly, means lots of time on the ground (I very much prefer to be in the air? :) )

jokergirl
2010-May-31, 08:25 AM
I just read about this on the BABlog and I have one big question:
How do they deal with vibrations? That 747 must shake terribly... is it all done in software?

;)

Jeff Root
2010-May-31, 12:07 PM
I am slower at doing anything than anyone else you have ever met,
but I find it hard to imagine how the *planned* testing time could be
anywhere close to five years. Certainly problems could crop up --
especially with the big hole and vibrations that jokergirl asks about --
which would cause an unintended time of five years. But a planned
time that long baffles me. How long did it take to modify, test, and
start using the U2 for CMBR observations in the mid-1970s?

-- Jeff, in Minneapolis

OE_Eric
2010-May-31, 07:41 PM
I am slower at doing anything than anyone else you have ever met,
but I find it hard to imagine how the *planned* testing time could be
anywhere close to five years. Certainly problems could crop up --
especially with the big hole and vibrations that jokergirl asks about --
which would cause an unintended time of five years. But a planned
time that long baffles me. How long did it take to modify, test, and
start using the U2 for CMBR observations in the mid-1970s?

-- Jeff, in Minneapolis

It isn't five years of planned testing time. It is less than half that. Most of the time is in systems development and integration. First Lighe happened in less than 30 total flights (3 of which were ferry flights). In less than 50 flights the program will start doing science (limited to hand flown trajectories with many capabilities yet to be added). After that there will be a steady build up in capabilities and observing hours until the SOFIA observatory reaches Full Operational Capability (right now about four years away). At FOC the airplane will be flying steadily at a rate of well over 800 observing hours a year, and the test and integration will be limited to improvements as needed.

Does that make sense? It isn't five years of testing, it is (or was) five years until full capability is achieved, but science will start happening this year.

OE_Eric
2010-May-31, 07:48 PM
I just read about this on the BABlog and I have one big question:
How do they deal with vibrations? That 747 must shake terribly... is it all done in software?

;)

In short, the telescope is isolated from the airframe by a gigantic bearing floating on a thin film of oil. The SOFIA aircraft doesn't shake terribly, though I assure you. I have been on many of the test flights and I am often amazed by how smooth a ride it provides especially at cruising altitude and speed where most of the observing will be done.

The area around the opening and the aperture that is part of the door system are designed to minimize airflow into the the cavity where the mirrors are. All indications are that it is working quite well. There are various systems in place designed to compensate for flexible body effects and stability, but so far it is actually working better than we expected (knock on wood).

BigDon
2010-Jun-03, 04:00 PM
Several lifetimes ago I was a avionics and fire control technician on F-14's. I don't see anything odd in the developement time.

OE_Eric
2010-Jun-04, 04:55 AM
Several lifetimes ago I was a avionics and fire control technician on F-14's. I don't see anything odd in the developement time.

Hmmm...you aren't looking for work are you?? Avionics techs are hard to come by these days. :)

George
2010-Jun-04, 02:34 PM
Hmmm...you aren't looking for work are you?? Avionics techs are hard to come by these days. :)

Just offer them flights to and from Hawaii. ;)

Thanks for jumping in and sharing! Congratulations on your accomplishments.

No doubt your fast portability to either hemisphere may prove fruitful for certain odd projects.

ToSeek
2011-Sep-20, 02:38 PM
Nice writeup on the flying observatory:

The observatory above the clouds (http://www.physorg.com/news/2011-09-observatory-clouds.html)


If you want to reach for the stars, you have to lift off. This could be the motto of Sofia, a jumbo jet which has been converted into an observatory. On board it carries a 2.7-metre telescope, which the researchers use to observe the birthplaces of distant suns, galactic molecular clouds or the envelopes of planets in the infrared as they fly above Earth’s disturbing atmosphere at an altitude of 15 kilometres.

OE_Eric
2011-Oct-01, 07:27 PM
It's been a busy year for SOFIA. We started Early Science in December and we have flown several missions through this last week. Back in March a BBC film crew was out filming one of our first missions where we were observing for the community:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b013pnv4

I think the full video is available on youtube, but I'm never clear about copyright laws I'll leave it up to you to find it if you're interested. The SOFIA segment is about 10-12 minutes starting at about 14 minutes in (I'm in there for a few seconds looking more concerned than I recall being, but I won't say which one I am).

Also, this morning an NPR story came out:

http://www.npr.org/2011/10/01/140877924/flying-telescope-makes-an-out-of-this-world-find

The story is about the discovery of something called the mercapto radical in interstellar gas. The scientists were pretty excited about it, but I honestly don't understandd what it means...it feels good to be a small part of scientific discovery though!

ShinAce
2011-Oct-03, 10:10 PM
Let me begin with "I SUCK at chemistry". Swift would be a great person to consult.

As far as I can tell, the Mercapto radical is a compound composed of one sulfur atom bound to one hydrogen atom. Typically, sulfur would bind with 2 hydrogen atoms. This latter compound has already been observed in interstellar space. So the obvious follow-up was "Where's the mercapto?". I would take a wild guess and say it is not very stable. Or rather, it wouldn't last long before reacting to make a different compound.

Why this is exciting is beyond me!!! I never got giddy when I found Waldo as a kid. But it sounds exactly like what they are doing. Rejoicing that they finally found something they knew had to be there, somewhere.

p.s. Thank you so very much for your updates!

Swift
2011-Oct-04, 02:52 AM
Let me begin with "I SUCK at chemistry". Swift would be a great person to consult.
Hey, how did I get pulled into this? ;) Actually, your explanation isn't bad and this kind of chemistry is very far from what I do. I do know that the stability of isolated molecules, such as the Mercapto radical, is very different in interstellar space (where it rarely interacts with other species) than it would be under more Earth-like conditions. I'm not quite sure how they use this as a thermometer, other than what it says in the linked NPR story:

The reason Neufeld is interested in mercapto radicals is that they form at certain temperatures.

"So if we see it, what it will tell us is that the clouds of interstellar gas that we are looking at, which are thought to be very, very cold, may have parts of them where it's been heated up to much higher temperatures," he says.
I assume that means that the temperature has to get high enough for the Mercapto radical to even form, higher than what has been expected in this gas clouds.