Mission Research

SOFIA Overview (cont.)
NASA's SOFIA airborne observatory is shadowed by a NASA F/A-18 aircraft. NASA's new SOFIA airborne observatory is shadowed by a NASA F/A-18 safety chase aircraft during its second checkout flight near Waco, Texas on May 10, 2007. (NASA photo by Jim Ross)

Education and Outreach

As part of its overall mission, SOFIA has been designed to incorporate a strong educational and public outreach emphasis to help improve American education in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. SOFIA has been designed to give elementary, secondary and college-level educators from across the U.S. hands-on participation in cutting-edge scientific and astronomical research. It also will provide training for undergraduate and graduate-level scientists, engineers and technologists by enabling their participation in designing and developing instrumentation and conducting and analyzing observations of SOFIA's telescope.

Development Status to Date

Major modification of the former Boeing 747SP jetliner and installation of the telescope is essentially complete, except for telescope subsystems and mission control and communications systems. Modifications and installation were conducted over several years by L-3 Communications Integrated Systems Division in Waco, Texas. Following completion of ground testing, related engineering approvals and several checkout flights in the spring of 2007, further development of SOFIA became the responsibility of NASA Dryden, where final installation and integration of its numerous operating and science-related systems and a multi-phase build-up flight test program will occur.

The first flight test phase, slated for the latter part of 2007, will focus on expanding its flight envelope with the large external telescope cavity door closed. Following installation of an auxiliary power unit, insulation and an environmental control system in the telescope cavity and the on-board Mission Control and Communications Systems, SOFIA will enter its second phase of flight testing, currently scheduled for late 2008 through mid-2009. This phase will focus on the various aerodynamic and operational issues related to flying SOFIA at high altitudes at cruising speeds with the external telescope cavity door open.

Following the completion of the first two flight-test phases, further upgrades to the Mission Control and Communications System and installation and checkout of the initial suite of science instruments is planned. A series of functional checkout observation flights are then planned in 2009. These functional check flight segments will first characterize the capability of the airborne observatory and demonstrate its ability to obtain science data, then conduct shared-purpose flights to obtain astronomical data while telescope performance is being tuned, and finally a series of flights to demonstrate that the observatory is fully operational and ready for collecting science data.

> Infrared Astronomy