SOFIA Observatory Completes Open-Door Flight Tests
NASA's Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy has completed the second segment of flight tests with its telescope door open to prepare the observatory for early science missions, expected to begin late this year. The highly modified SOFIA 747SP aircraft now has a telescope cavity door-open flight envelope fully cleared for astronomical science missions at up to 45,000 feet altitude and all observing elevations.
The second segment of flight envelope expansion tests began June 23 and included 12 flights totaling 49 hours in the air. Test points included evaluation of the performance, handling qualities and structural characteristics of the aircraft. Test data were collected to quantify airframe and telescope cavity acoustic and vibration characteristics at the highest elevation angles. Results of testing during these and previous flights will be used to establish airworthiness of the 747SP flying observatory for its 20-year operational lifetime.
After reviewing data following the Aug. 4 final flight, the SOFIA engineering team has cleared the aircraft to proceed to the final verification and validation ground testing of all systems required to begin science observation flights, said Brent Cobleigh, SOFIA aircraft project manager.
The aircraft project team will complete installation and checkout of the remaining research systems that support telescope operations. When these tasks are completed later this year, the observatory will begin flying infrared astronomy science missions. Cobleigh said SOFIA program staff is working toward a goal of routine operations eventually reaching 960 research hours per year, flying three to four nights per week.
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