NASA and the German Space Agency are developing the Stratospheric Observatory For Infrared Astronomy - or SOFIA - as a world-class airborne observatory that will complement the Hubble, Spitzer, Herschel and James Webb space telescopes and major Earth-based telescopes.
The SOFIA features a German-built 100-inch-diameter far-infrared telescope weighing 17 metric tons and mounted in the rear fuselage of a highly modified Boeing 747SP aircraft. It is one of the premier space science programs of NASA's Science Mission Directorate.
Major aircraft modifications and installation of the telescope were accomplished at L-3 Communications Integrated Systems' facility at Waco, Texas. Completion of systems installation, integration and flight test operations through 2010 are being undertaken at Dryden. After development of the observatory is complete, Dryden, the Universities Space Research Association and the Deutsches SOFIA Institut, under leadership of the SOFIA Science project at the Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif., are planning SOFIA science operations jointly.
Once operations begin in about 2010, the SOFIA'S telescope will provide astronomers with access to the visible, infrared and sub-millimeter spectrum, with optimized performance in the mid-infrared to sub-millimeter range.
Currently, the telescope and the aircraft's telescope cavity door system are being adjusted, which will lead to open-door ground operational testing. These activities will be followed by six to eight open-door flight tests in spring 2009 to study the handling qualities of the aircraft as air flows over and into the telescope cavity. First airborne astronomical observations with the telescope are expected in the summer of 2009.