In the darkened interior of NASA's SOFIA flying observatory, NASA and German scientists study the results of system tests on the telescope assembly, including the gyroscope, system software and wide-field and fine-field imagers. (USRA photo / Phil Watts) Astronomers for the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy, or SOFIA, program recently conducted five nights of telescope testing at NASA's Dryden Aircraft Operations Facility in Palmdale, Calif., to assess the performance of the gyroscope unit on the telescope's assembly system. In addition, tests were completed on other system-level software changes that were made after similar evaluations with the High-speed Imaging Photometer for Occultations, or HIPO, mounted on the telescope in December 2008.
Many of these studies, including tracking tests, focused on Polaris, the North Star. The observations afforded the scientists the opportunity to use the telescope pointing and operational commands to explore their interactions under normal science observations. While a science instrument was not mounted to the telescope assembly during the most recent tests, scientists used SOFIA's focal plane imager for these investigations. Additionally, operation of the wide-field and fine-field imagers, which are permanently located on the telescope assembly, were assessed.
The nighttime operations were conducted jointly by NASA and its German partners. NASA staff focused on the aircraft's subsystems while Deutsches SOFIA Institut and Universities Space Research Association scientists and engineers focused on telescope operations.