NASA's SOFIA Aircraft Resumes Flight Tests
NASA's Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy, or SOFIA, aircraft took to the skies above California's Mojave Desert Dec. 9 on its first flight since January 2008. The highly modified Boeing 747SP, carrying a German-built telescope to be used for infrared astronomy research, flew almost 3½ hours during a functional check flight in restricted airspace near Edwards Air Force Base and NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center.
This check flight evaluated the aircraft's performance, handling characteristics and flight systems. The flight included a check-out of aircraft systems, including engines, flight controls and communication. The cavity door drive system, the mechanism that controls the doors covering the telescope cavity, was operated without exposing the telescope.
The next flight planned for later this month will include opening of the telescope cavity door to 10 percent of its range. That will be followed by a flight to operate the cavity door drive system to open the upper rigid door completely to expose the covered telescope mirror.
The aircraft and telescope have undergone significant modifications and upgrades since its last flight, including:
- The telescope's primary mirror was removed, coated and reinstalled.
- Upgrades were completed on the telescope's gyros, fine drive brakes, vibration isolation system and cooling supply unit.
- The upper rigid door covering the telescope cavity was instrumented and reinstalled with the lower flexible door and aperture.
- The telescope cavity door drive system was installed.
- Test instrumentation equipment was placed throughout the aircraft.
- The basic mission command and control computer equipment to move the telescope during flight was built and installed.
- Routine 747SP maintenance was completed.
While the aircraft was undergoing maintenance at NASA’s Dryden Aircraft Operations Facility in Palmdale, Calif., three nighttime telescope operational checkouts were conducted with several of SOFIA's unique instruments, including the Focal Plane Imager, the High-speed Imaging Photometer for Occultations and the Fast Diagnostic Camera.
The SOFIA Program is a partnership between NASA and the DLR (German Aerospace Agency). The SOFIA Program is managed by NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center at Edwards Air Force Base. NASA’s Ames Research Center near Moffett Field, Calif., manages the SOFIA science project. The SOFIA 747SP aircraft is based at NASA's Dryden Aircraft Operations Facility.
Dryden Flight Research Center