Jan Wörner Blog

SOFIA… a success story in jeopardy

14.03.2014 | posted by Jan Wörner

[Translated from the German original on 19 March 2014]

Since 2007, a converted Boeing 747 SP has been flying to look into the depths of space through an on-board telescope. This airborne observatory is a joint venture between the US space agency NASA and the German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt; DLR). As part of the current budget statement for NASA, it was announced from Washington that it would not be possible to finance continued operations as of 2015. This would not only be a major blow for the scientists that have planned a great deal of interesting astronomical research for the coming years, but also for the relationship between NASA and DLR. read more


SOFIA: Stars and the Space Between


The American Museum of Natural History just published a video introducing SOFIA, the NASA DLR airborne observatory. It gives a very good overview of the programme, the science and the aircraft. Watch the 8-minute feature 'SOFIA: Stars and the Space Between' here. read more


SOFIA (Stratosphären-Observatorium für Infrarot-Astronomie)

The tension builds up – SOFIA to land at Cologne-Bonn Airport on Saturday at 06:50

16.09.2011 | posted by Andrea Schaub

The airborne observatory SOFIA will arrive at Cologne-Bonn Airport on Saturday 17 September 2011 at about 06:50 CEST. The aircraft will be one of the attractions during German Aerospace Day, which takes place on the following day. The flight from the United States to Germany can be followed live online from 19:10 CEST – learn how in this blog post. read more

SOFIA: Teleskop

'Live' airborne astronomy

06.06.2011 | posted by Dietmar Lilienthal

I had already been working on the SOFIA project for some years, when back in 1998, a consortium of German research institutes (Max-Planck Institute of Radio Astronomy in Bonn, University of Cologne, Max-Planck Institute of Solar System Research and the DLR Institute of Planetary Research) decided to develop the German Receiver for Astronomy at Terahertz Frequencies (GREAT) as the Principal Investigator-class Science Instrument for the first generation at the SOFIA Observatory. At this time, the aim was for the observatory to be operational by the end of 2001. It was not only the optimists who were expecting the GREAT spectrometer to soon enter operational service. Back then, who could have thought that it would take 13 years for GREAT to fly on SOFIA for the first time? read more


Interview with Tom Speer on SOFIA

17.03.2011 | posted by Henning Krause

NASA's Tom Speer used to be a pilot for commercial aircraft. He now works in the SOFIA project, training new SOFIA crew members on aircraft operations. I asked Tom for an interview and he was kind enough as to answer my questions. read more


SOFIA line-ops

First ground-based test observations with GREAT completed successfully

14.02.2011 | posted by Dietmar Lilienthal

It has been an exciting few weeks conducting the first ground-based astronomical test observations, referred to as 'Line Ops', with the German Receiver for Astronomy at Terahertz Frequencies (GREAT), at the SOFIA operations centre at Palmdale in the Mojave Desert. The mission was to install GREAT and carry out the initial operational tests. read more

Kuiper KAO Timecapsule

NASA airborne observatory's past unearthed

10.01.2011 | posted by Henning Krause

Fifteen years after its final flight, veterans of the Kuiper Airborne Observatory, or KAO, gathered at NASA's Ames Research Center Nov. 10, 2010 to witness the opening of a time capsule. The KAO is a highly modified Lockheed C-141A cargo transport aircraft fitted with a 36-inch telescope. The observatory was based at NASA's Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California, for operations that began in 1974 and ended in 1995. read more


Spotted: strange object flying over SOFIA

23.12.2010 | posted by Henning Krause

Earlier this week I received a slightly puzzling email from my colleague Alan Brown over at NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center. He reported that earlier this month, on the night before SOFIA was due to start her first scientific flight, a strange cargo aircraft with a very odd propulsion system was spotted flying overhead. At that time, SOFIA's telescope system was still being tested for the flight next morning. Tom Tschida took a couple of quick shots, but when he looked back a moment later, it was gone! read more

Happy Holidays! Cooperation with partners in the United States

16.12.2010 | posted by Jan Wörner

Shortly before Christmas, the DLR office in Washington DC invites our partners to attend a Holiday reception. This way, various DLR's various US aerospace sector partners are invited to take a look back at the past year in a convivial atmosphere, and also to make plans for the future. This year, the reception occurred at the end of what proved to be a fascinating business trip, one which took me right across the US and gave me the opportunity to meet many of our partners there. read more

On board the third SOFIA science flight


After the first SOFIA science flight from 30 November to 1 December 2010, yesterday's third flight already had a certain feeling of routine to it. But not for me – the last time I flew with an airborne observatory (KAO, the predecessor to SOFIA) was in July 1987! On the morning of 7 December, the latest updated software packages, with the scientific objectives and the resulting flight plan, were loaded into the onboard computers and the FORCAST instrument was filled with liquid nitrogen and helium. The crew briefing at 1:45 pm briefly went over all aspects of the mission and last minute changes to the schedule, and then we embarked on the aircraft at 2:15 pm. read more


Ground-based training for science with SOFIA

24.11.2010 | posted by Heinz-Theo Hammes

Shortly before the start of the first science flight with SOFIA, the mission crew trained for the sequence of in-flight operations. Pilots, technical staff and researchers simulated mission profiles with observation of an astronomical object, aircraft course alterations and changing to observe another celestial object, among other things. All the routines that occur on a regular basis during a science flight were rehearsed. This can involve changing the elevation of the telescope while at the same time tracking the position of the observatory door, finding and maintaining focus on a celestial object and the interaction of the various systems on board the aircraft. read more


DLR-Webcast: SOFIA - the flying infrared observatory

26.05.2010 | posted by Henning Krause

The Stratospheric Observatory For Infrared Astronomy, SOFIA, is a cooperative German-US space research project. The 2.7-metre telescope, housed in a Boeing 747SP, is designed to observe in the infrared. During flight, a four-by-six-metre door opens at the rear of the aircraft, through which the telescope can view the night sky. The plane is based in California; the telescope was designed and built in Germany. read more

News about SOFIA

22.01.2010 | posted by Marco Trovatello

The SOFIA ‘flying observatory’, a collaboration between NASA and DLR, is making great progress. After two test flights in December 2009, a third successful flight was made on 15 January 2010. A brief news roundup. read more