SOFIA makes a low pass over the NASA Ames
Center at Moffett Field, CA just before
landing for a short visit 1/14/08
Photo: NASA / Carla Thomas
1/17/2008 - Edwards Air Force Base, CA - NASA's
Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy, or
SOFIA, has passed a significant mission milestone. It
has completed the first phase of experimental flight
tests, which confirmed the structural integrity and
performance of the modified 747SP SOFIA aircraft that
carries a huge infrared telescope.
The telescope measures nearly 10 feet in width and
weighs almost 19 tons. It peers through a 16-foot-high
door cut into SOFIA's 747 fuselage. During this test
series, the aircraft flew five times with this
external door closed. These flights tested the limits
of the aircraft's capabilities in many areas,
including aerodynamics, structural integrity,
stability and control, and handling qualities.
"SOFIA is already a technological marvel, and will
soon be a powerful tool for studying the birth and
evolution of planets, stars, and galaxies," said Alan
Stern, associate administrator of NASA's Science
Mission Directorate, NASA Headquarters, Washington.
"The completion of its closed door testing phase is a
major milestone on the way to SOFIA's inaugural
science flights next year."
The SOFIA program also checked the functionality of
the aircraft's cutting edge, German-built telescope.
Engineers tested the ability of the instrument's
control system to maintain its precise position when
tracking a celestial object, even while the aircraft
moves and maneuvers through the sky.
"The project finished a very important milestone on
the path to the first astronomy work with the
telescope, which is expected in early 2009," said
Robert Meyer Jr., SOFIA program manager at NASA's
Dryden Flight Research Center, Edwards Air Force Base,
The aircraft now will undergo installation and
integration of the remaining elements of the
observatory before open-door test flights scheduled to
begin in late 2008. After completing the initial
open-door test flight, limited science observation
flights will begin in 2009. The science community will
survey the universe with five specialized instruments
on SOFIA as the observatory begins normal science
observation flights in 2011. The observatory reaches
full operational capabilities in 2014.
The SOFIA aircraft is based at Dryden's newly
established Aircraft Operations Facility in Palmdale,
Calif., where it will remain for additional
development, flight testing and science flight
operations. The program is a partnership of NASA and
the German Aerospace Center. Dryden manages the SOFIA
program. NASA's Ames Research Center, Moffett Field,
Calif., manages the science project.
Source: NASA Dryden Press Release