Even like NASA post pictures To demonstrate progress in operating the James Webb Space Telescope, preparations are underway to establish the Boeing 747-based Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (Sofia) for good.
The end of operations was announced on April 28, confirming that there would be no further mission extensions to the modified Boeing 747 SP and its telescope. Operations will cease “no later than September 30, 2022” once the current mission extension expires.
SOFIA, a joint project of NASA and partners at the German Space Agency at the Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt (DLR), was at borrowed time. Development began in 1996, the first light was seen in 2010 and the platform was announced to be operating at full capacity in 2014.
Its main five-year mission was completed in 2019 and its three-year extension will conclude this year.
“As part of its review of the current state of astronomical research, the National Academies’ Decadal Survey of Astronomy and Astrophysics 2020 evaluated Sophia,” NASA said.
The report notes that Sophia did not justify the operating cost and its capabilities did not “significantly overlap” with the priorities identified in the survey.
The SOFIA telescope looks out from a large door in the fuselage, near the tail. Observations are made while the plane is flying between 38,000 and 45,000 feet, which is over 99 percent of Earth’s atmosphere that blocks infrared radiation, According to NASA.
Telescope instruments operate at near, medium and far infrared wavelengths, and thanks to the fact that the Boeing 747 lands after each flight, engineers also have the opportunity to service and upgrade the payload.
However, all good things must come to an end. Flying telescope value long been interrogatedespecially when measured against quotes generated by the likes of the Hubble Space Telescope.
The Boeing 747SP itself dates back to 1977, passing through the hands of Pan Am and United Airlines before beginning work on adapting the aircraft for surveillance missions (including cutting that large hatch in the fuselage).
The discoveries of the expedition included discoveries Water on the moon’s sunlit surface in 2020. More flights to the observatory were planned before the mission ended, including a short trip to New Zealand.
However, with nothing in NASA’s budget for the observatory and a nod from the DLR, it appears the end of Sophia is in sight. ®
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