2. June 2016

SOFIA air­borne ob­ser­va­to­ry – NASA and DLR ex­tend co­op­er­a­tion agree­ment at ILA

Signed SOFIA ex­ten­sion agree­ment
Image 1/5, Credit: DLR (CC-BY 3.0).

Signed SOFIA extension agreement

On 2 June 2016 at the ILA Berlin Air Show, the Chair of the DLR Ex­ec­u­tive Board, Pas­cale Ehren­fre­und, Gerd Gruppe, Mem­ber of the DLR Ex­ec­u­tive Board re­spon­si­ble for the Space Ad­min­is­tra­tion, and Da­va New­man, Deputy Ad­min­is­tra­tor of NASA, signed an agree­ment to ex­tend SOFIA’s ser­vice life for four years.
SOFIA in flight with tele­scope hatch open
Image 2/5, Credit: NASA/C. Thomas.

SOFIA in flight with telescope hatch open

The SOFIA fly­ing ob­ser­va­to­ry tele­scope hatch opens dur­ing flight. ISOFIA flies at an al­ti­tude of 13,000 me­tres, high above the dis­tur­bance of Earth's at­mo­sphere. Its first test flight with a to­tal­ly open tele­scope hatch took place on 18 De­cem­ber 2009 over Cal­i­for­nia's Mo­jave Desert. The Ger­man-built tele­scope is vis­i­ble in the open­ing of the fuse­lage of the Boe­ing 747SP.
SOFIA in New Zealand
Image 3/5, Credit: DLR (CC-BY 3.0).

SOFIA in New Zealand

From 15 Ju­ly to 2 Au­gust 2013, SOFIA, the DLR/NASA Strato­spher­ic Ob­ser­va­to­ry for In­frared As­tron­o­my, ob­served its first ob­jects in the south­ern hemi­sphere. The next New Zealand cam­paign will take place in June and Ju­ly 2016. Dur­ing the three-week cam­paign, the fly­ing ob­ser­va­to­ry will be sta­tioned at Christchurch In­ter­na­tion­al Air­port. Dur­ing the flights in the south­ern hemi­sphere, Ger­man and Unit­ed States sci­en­tists have stud­ied, among oth­er things, the Large and Small Mag­el­lan­ic Clouds.
View of the cock­pit
Image 4/5, Credit: DLR (CC-BY 3.0).

View of the cockpit

Calm­ness in the cock­pit: Dur­ing the New Zealand re­search cam­paigns, the pi­lots se­cure­ly steer the air­craft over the icy wa­ters north of the South Pole.
The Ger­man in­stru­ment GREAT
Image 5/5, Credit: DLR (CC-BY 3.0).

The German instrument GREAT

The Ger­man Re­ceiv­er for As­tron­o­my at Ter­a­hertz Fre­quen­cies (GREAT) al­lows ob­ser­va­tions in the far in­frared range. The de­vice (met­al-coloured, rect­an­gu­lar struc­ture on the right) was de­signed and built in Ger­many. For the in­stru­ment to be able to ob­serve in the re­quired in­frared range, the sen­sor must be cooled down. This is done with the aid of liq­uid ni­tro­gen and he­li­um. Pro­tec­tive cloth­ing must be worn when pour­ing these ice cold sub­stances to pre­vent in­jury.

The SOFIA (Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy) airborne observatory – a joint venture between the German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt; DLR) and the United States National Aeronautics and Space Administration, NASA – explores the evolution of galaxies using the telescope. Since 2011, the hatch of the modified Boeing 747SP has been opened 250 times to observe the night sky. The numerous 10-hour-long flights have been so prosperous that DLR and NASA have extended SOFIA's service life – initially until the end of 2020. The agreement was signed on 2 June 2016 by the Chair of the DLR Executive Board, Pascale Ehrenfreund, Gerd Gruppe, Member of the DLR Executive Board responsible for the Space Administration, and Dava Newman, Deputy Administrator of NASA, at the ILA Berlin Air Show.

SOFIA – a classic example of German-US collaboration

"SOFIA is a classic example of the many years of successful collaboration between NASA and DLR in the field of space exploration research," said Ehrenfreund during the signing in Berlin. "We're pleased to be making this globally unique observatory available to astronomers for their research for an initial period of four more years," added Gruppe. The extension of the agreement is also a milestone for NASA: "SOFIA's unique capabilities for observing the universe in the mid and far infrared will be unparalleled for many years to come. The breakthrough science from this one-of-a-kind flying observatory will help unravel the mysteries of our cosmos, and complement the discoveries of the upcoming James Webb Space Telescope," said Newman.

Fit for duty until 2030

The airborne observatory measures the thermal emission from space that is not visible from Earth. Its observations therefore focus on the evolution of galaxies – in particular, the Milky Way. SOFIA mainly explores molecular and dust clouds in galaxies, where new stars and planetary systems are formed. The airborne observatory has therefore been designed – and regularly maintained – to ensure its missions until 2030. Its measuring instruments are also continuously being enhanced and/or replaced by modern, more efficient versions. Based on regular reviews of the scientific results, NASA and DLR will decide on a further service life extension from 2018.

German research set to continue

The collaboration and allocation of responsibilities between the two partners is managed by means of a cooperation agreement – a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU). The original MoU concluded at the end of 1996 for a period of 10 years, to manage the development and construction of the infrared telescope by DLR, and its installation in the Boeing 747SP modified by NASA. In late 2006, the MoU was extended for another 10 years, to cover the intensive test phase and initial scientific observations. In addition to providing the telescope, Germany also has a 20 percent share in the operation of the observatory – 20 percent of the observation time is therefore allocated to scientists from German research institutes. Scientists now have a total of seven measuring instruments at their disposal, including cameras and spectrometers; their use in the institutes is also financed by funding from NASA and DLR. German scientists can now continue to use this technology and carry on exploring the evolution of galaxies until 2020 and beyond.


    The Stratospheric Observatory For Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA), is a joint project operated by the German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt; DLR) and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). The German contribution to the project is managed by the DLR Space Administration, using funds provided by the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy (Bundesministerium für Wirtschaft und Energie), the State of Baden-Württemberg and the University of Stuttgart. Development of the German instruments is financed using funds from the Max Planck Society (Max-Planck-Gesellschaft; MPG), the German Research Foundation (Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft; DFG) and DLR. The scientific operations are coordinated by the German SOFIA Institute (Deutsche SOFIA Institut; DSI) at the University of Stuttgart on the German side, and by the Universities Space Research Association (USRA) on the American side.

  • Andreas Schütz
    DLR Spokesper­son, Head of Me­dia Re­la­tions
    Ger­man Aerospace Cen­ter (DLR)

    Com­mu­ni­ca­tions and Me­dia Re­la­tions
    Telephone: +49 2203 601-2474
    Fax: +49 2203 601-3249
    Linder Höhe
    51147 Cologne
  • Martin Fleischmann
    Ger­man Aerospace Cen­ter (DLR)
    Ger­man Space Agen­cy at DLR
    Strat­e­gy and Com­mu­ni­ca­tions
    Telephone: +49 228 447-120
    Fax: +49 228 447-386
    Königswinterer Straße 522-524
    53227 Bonn
  • Heinz-Theo Hammes
    Ger­man Aerospace Cen­ter (DLR)
    Ger­man Space Agen­cy at DLR
    Space Sci­ence
    Königswinterer Straße 522-524
    53227 Bonn
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