Space | 24. November 2010 | posted by Heinz-Theo Hammes

Ground-based training for science with 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.

The 'Line Ops' (line operations) started in the same manner as for any other flight, with a crew briefing. Test Director Walt Miller explained the objectives of the simulation while Mission Director Nancy McKowan discussed the observation programme with the crew. As with any flight, the weather also formed an important part of the crew briefing. A meteorologist provided up-to-date information about the predicted weather conditions and cloud cover.


After that, the aircraft was moved into position and the mission crew took their seats at the consoles. Once all systems had been started and were running in a stable condition, the simulation began, based on the observation and flight plan devised for that night. Of course, the aircraft remained on the tarmac and did not move at first.

At each simulated course change, the aircraft was towed into a new position. Despite a full moon and partial cloud cover, it was possible to locate several astronomical objects, which were used during the simulation.

Then, a new object had to be located and recognised in accordance with the observation schedule. The required procedures were practiced and verified during this process. Here, it was important that all systems were, or became, well coordinated. Otherwise, valuable observation time might be lost, not to mention time lost on subsequent flights.

The Line Ops described here took place in mid- and late October, in preparation for the second Observatory Characterisation Flight, which took place on 10/11 November 2010.

All images: NASA.


About the author

Heinz Hammes studied safety engineering and has worked at the DLR Space Administration for more than 25 years. Hammes is currently seconded to Lufthansa Technik in Hamburg and is supervising the maintenance of SOFIA. to authorpage