NASA Dryden's 747SP 'SOFIA' lifts off from Edwards with
an F/A-18 chase 10/11/07.
Photo: Tony Landis
10/12/2007 - EDWARDS, CA. - NASA's Stratospheric Observatory
for Infrared Astronomy, or SOFIA, has begun a series of flight
tests intended to confirm the structural integrity and performance
of the highly modified Boeing 747SP aircraft.
The current tests, which began Thursday Oct. 11, are the first
of several flight and ground-test phases required to verify
that the unique airborne observatory is ready to perform its
future astronomical science mission. Thursday's flight lasted
just over five hours and was conducted by NASA's Dryden Flight
Research Center in restricted test airspace northwest of Edwards
Air Force Base in Southern California.
"The flight went very smoothly overall, and we accomplished
(the test points) that I expected," said NASA research
pilot Frank Batteas, pilot-in-command for Thursday's test mission.
"The aircraft will be a very stable platform for its observatory
A 17-metric-ton telescope was installed in SOFIA's aft fuselage
during major modifications at L-3 Communications Integrated
Systems facility in Waco, Texas. A 16-foot-high telescope cavity
door opening was cut into the fuselage during the installation
The first series of flight tests, conducted with the cavity
door closed, are studying the aerodynamics, structural integrity,
stability and control and handling qualities of the modified
aircraft, according to NASA Dryden's SOFIA aircraft project
manager John Carter. Later flights in the series will concentrate
on the in-flight free-floating rotational motion and control
of the German-built telescope.
Since its arrival at Dryden, the aircraft has been outfitted
with test instrumentation critical for the initial series of
flight tests. The aircraft has also been equipped with a telescope
cavity environmental control system designed to keep the telescope
dry when the door is closed and as the aircraft flies to the
altitude required for operation of the observatory.
After door-closed flight testing is complete – expected
by year-end – the SOFIA 747 will undergo installation
and integration of the remaining elements of the observatory
before door-open test flights, scheduled to begin in late 2008.
"The largest technical challenges are in 2008, with the
remainder of the mission sub-system installation that will give
the aircraft the ability to fly with the cavity door open,"
When fully operational, SOFIA's 2.5-meter infrared telescope
will conduct celestial observations while flying at up to 45,000
feet altitude. This will place the instrument above almost 99
percent of the Earth's atmospheric water vapor, greatly enhancing
its abilities to probe into space. The flying observatory is
designed to detect the formation of stars in our galaxy, determine
the chemical composition of the interstellar medium, and peer
through the dust that hides the black hole at the center of
the Milky Way.
After completing flight testing and further modifications,
NASA plans to begin "first light" infrared observations
of the universe in 2009. This will enable the mission to begin
obtaining results several years before the observatory reaches
its full capacity in 2014. SOFIA will collect science data using
a variety of specialized instruments developed by NASA and its
“SOFIA is making tremendous progress towards the initiation
of science observations in 2009, and the initiation of flight
testing is another milestone along the path to science observations,"
said Jon Morse, director of the Astrophysics Division in the
Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters, Washington.
"Early observations will have significant science community
involvement in order to initiate broad scientific use of this
unique astronomical observatory.”
The SOFIA program is a partnership of NASA and the German Aerospace
Center. NASA Dryden manages the SOFIA program, with science
elements of the program managed by the NASA Ames Research Center,
Moffett Field, Calif.
Source: NASA Dryden Press Release