The primary mirror assembly of NASA's Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy, or SOFIA, has been shipped to NASA's Ames Research Center near San Jose, Calif., where it will receive its final finish coating.
Image right: A NASA technician directs loading of the crated SOFIA primary mirror assembly into an Air Force C-17 for shipment to NASA Ames Research Center for finish coating. NASA Photo
Technicians at the NASA Dryden Aircraft Operations Facility in Palmdale, Calif., had removed the German-built primary mirror assembly from the SOFIA aircraft two weeks earlier in preparation for shipment to Ames. The more than two-ton mirror assembly was airlifted to NASA Ames at Moffett Field, Calif., on an Air Force C-17 transport plane May 1.
The one-of-a-kind 2.7-meter diameter mirror will receive its final aluminized finish coating in a zero-pressure coating facility at Ames, a process expected to take about three months. While it is out of the aircraft, engineers and technicians at Palmdale are conducting a variety of developmental tasks on the flying observatory, including re-routing of auxiliary power unit ducting, modifying the cavity door control system, installation of the Cavity Door Drive System actuators, replacement of the telescope's roller bearings, mounting non-reflective insulation inside the telescope cavity, installation of various mission sub-systems and making other mechanical refinements.
When final coating is complete, the flying observatory's primary mirror will be returned to the NASA Dryden facility in Palmdale and be reinstalled in the aircraft, with that operation presently scheduled for mid-August 2008.
Image right: Ground crewmen shove the more than two-ton SOFIA primary mirror assembly in its transport crate into a C-17's cavernous cargo bay for shipment to NASA Ames. NASA Photo
Once the integration work is complete and the mirror reinstalled, the SOFIA will then undergo several months of systems checkouts and a combined systems test. That will lead to the second phase of flight tests, with the telescope cavity door being incrementally opened at various altitudes to determine the aero-acoustic effects or buffeting on the aircraft and telescope systems at various altitudes.
NASA and the German Aerospace Center (DLR) are developing the SOFIA as a world-class observatory, complementing the visible-range Hubble Space Telescope and other future ground and space-based visible-light and infrared telescopes. Once operational, SOFIA will be the world's primary terrestrial-based infrared observatory for up to two decades, as well as an outstanding laboratory for developing and testing instrumentation and detector technology.
Systems integration and flight test operations are being conducted by NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center at the Dryden Aircraft Operations Facility. The SOFIA science and mission operations are managed jointly by the Universities Space Research Association (USRA) and the Deutsches SOFIA Institut (DSI), and are based at NASA's Ames Research Center.
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