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SOFIA Blog | 06. June 2011 | 4 Comments

'Live' airborne astronomy

SOFIA: Teleskop

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

SOFIA Blog | 17. March 2011

Interview with Tom Speer on SOFIA

SOIFA

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

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SOFIA Blog | 14. February 2011

First ground-based test observations with GREAT completed successfully

SOFIA line-ops

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

SOFIA Blog | 10. January 2011

NASA airborne observatory's past unearthed

Kuiper KAO Timecapsule

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

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SOFIA Blog | 23. December 2010 | 1 Comment

Spotted: strange object flying over SOFIA

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

SOFIA Blog | 08. December 2010 | 2 Comments

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

SOFIA Blog | 24. November 2010

Ground-based training for science with SOFIA

SOFIA

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

SOFIA Blog | 26. May 2010

DLR-Webcast: SOFIA - the flying infrared observatory

SOFIA

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

SOFIA Blog | 22. January 2010

News about SOFIA

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