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Sofia Observatory Enters Aircraft Testing Phase

Early observations will have significant science community involvement to initiate broad use of this unique astronomical observatory

NASA's Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy, known as SOFIA, began a series of flight tests Thursday of the highly modified Boeing 747SP aircraft.

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An official coming-out party was held Wednesday for a mammoth flying telescope that researchers hope will help answer key questions about the universe, such as how stars and planets are formed.
NASA Dryden Flight Research Centre hosted the debut of SOFIA - the Stratospheric Observatory For Infrared Astronomy - a modified Boeing 747 that carries a 45,000-pound telescope.

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NASAs High-Altitude Observatory Dedicated Monday In Waco
NASA will dedicate its Stratospheric Observatory For Infrared Astronomy, or SOFIA, in a ceremony Monday in Waco that coincides with Charles Lindberghs historic New York-to-Paris flight.
SOFIA incorporates a 98.4-inch infrared telescope thats mounted in a highly modified Boeing 747-SP jet.
SOFIA completed its first test flight on April 26.
The plane was modified and the 45,000-pound telescope was installed at L-3 Integrated Systems in Waco.

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NASA's SOFIA to be Rededicated on Historic Lindbergh Anniversary
On May 21, Charles Lindbergh's grandson Erik will help NASA dedicate a special 747 astronomy aircraft to the trailblazing aviator. May 21 is the 80th anniversary of Lindbergh's historic solo New York-to-Paris flight. The ceremony will take place at 9 a.m. CDT, at the Texas State Technical College Airport in Waco.

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NASA successfully completed the first of several planned checkout test flights of the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA) aircraft.
The flight took place in Waco, Texas, to observe the low-speed and low- altitude handling performance of the aircraft. NASA research pilot and astronaut Gordon Fullerton led the crew making the historic first flight.

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NASA Astronomical Observatory Passes Hurdle

The world's largest airborne astronomical observatory has passed a technical and programmatic review that could potentially lead to the continuation of the mission.

NASA's Program Management Council concluded that there were no insurmountable technical or programmatic challenges to the continued development of the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA). The agency has developed a technically viable plan to proceed with the development of the SOFIA aircraft, subject to the identification of appropriate funding offsets.
Earlier this year, the decision had been made to discontinue funding in fiscal year 2007 as a result of technical, programmatic, and budget challenges affecting the program. The NASA Program Management Council is chaired by NASA Associate Administrator Rex Geveden and comprised of NASA headquarters and centre senior management.

"We placed the program on hold last February because of programmatic and technical issues. Since that time, we have thoroughly reviewed the program and now are confident that SOFIA can resolve those issues. However, it is not yet clear whether SOFIA represents the best investment of space science funding, and we will need to consider funding options and sources before we decide to continue the mission" - Rex Geveden

SOFIA has been under development since 1996 as an airborne astronomical observatory consisting of a 2.5-meter aperture telescope permanently installed in a specially-modified Boeing 747 aircraft. The aircraft, fitted with an open-port telescope provided through a partnership with the German Aerospace Centre, will provide routine access to space observations in several parts of the spectrum beyond what is visible to the eye.

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The SOFIA aircraft, a Boeing 747-SP, with all major physical modifications completed as of February 3, 2006, in a hangar at L-3 Communications Integrated Systems in Waco, Texas, US.
The SOFIA telescope cavity door open to reveal the telescope. The 2.5-meter diameter primary mirror is under the red cover.
On the platform, from left: Ed Boyington, L-3 Integrated Systems Waco site executive, Dr. David Black, USRA President, Jim Kephart, USRA SOFIA Project Manager, and John Fitch, L-3 SOFIA Program Manager.

http://www.sofia.usra.edu/

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The Universities Space Research Association (USRA) has announced that its teammate L-3 Communications Integrated Systems has completed all major physical modifications required for initial flight-testing of NASA’s Stratospheric Observatory For Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA).

SOFIA is a Boeing 747 extensively modified to carry a 22,680-kilogram, 2.5-metre infrared telescope provided by Germany. SOFIA will fly at altitudes up to 13,700 metres – above 99% majority of the Earth’s water vapour – to capture infrared images not possible by even the largest ground-based telescopes.

NASA selected USRA in 1996 to develop and operate SOFIA to replace the .91-meter Kuiper Airborne Observatory, a C-141 that flew successfully for over 20 years. Since then, SOFIA has progressed steadily through key milestones: delivery of the German-built telescope in 2002; installation of the telescope into the aircraft in 2003; structural testing of the aircraft and initial ground-based testing of the telescope in 2004; and completion of the first-flight configuration of the NASA telescope cavity door in 2005.
The announcement moves SOFIA into the final phase of the Heavy Maintenance Visit, final ground testing and FAA verifications. Initial flight tests are scheduled for the latter part of 2006, depending on funding. After flight testing and functional testing of the telescope and cavity door, SOFIA will be operated at the NASA Ames Research Centre in Mountain View, California, US.
Germany has been substantially involved in the SOFIA program for over 20 years. The German Aerospace Centre – or DLR – funded and oversaw design and development of the SOFIA telescope by a team of German companies. In 2004, the DLR funded the University of Stuttgart to establish the German SOFIA Institute, which coordinates German participation in the program. SOFIA’s science staff already includes German researchers helping to move the program to its first science observations. In return for Germany’s considerable investment in SOFIA, 20% of SOFIA’s observing time will be for German astronomers.

SOFIA will provide an excellent platform for the study of black hole environments, galactic evolution, the chemical composition of interstellar gas clouds, complex organic molecules in space, and the formation of stars and solar systems. SOFIA will also provide a unique opportunity for educators to partner with scientists on research missions.

The development phase of SOFIA is virtually complete. We plan to start flight testing this year and once that is complete we can start flying science missions. That is when the program will begin to reap tangible benefits from this significant investment by NASA and the German government” - David Black, USRA President.

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