SOFIA: a stratospheric telescope that made important discoveries possible

SOFIA: a stratospheric telescope that made important discoveries possible

In 1996, NASA and the German Center aviation and astronautics (DLR) signed a memorandum on the creation and operation of the SOFIA project.
The latter involved placing a three-meter infrared telescope on board a Boeing 747 aircraft.

The meaning of this technical solution was the ability of a winged vehicle to rise into the stratosphere, overcoming the bulk of water vapor located in the troposphere. The latter is a significant obstacle to the exploration of outer space from the Earth's surface, as it absorbs part of the IR waves.

It is worth noting that SOFIA was not the first such project. The technology was tested by American astronomer Gerard Kuiper back in 1965, using the narrow-body four-engine jetliner Convair CV-990 to observe Venus in the infrared range.

But let's return to the modernized Boeing 747, which was equipped with a FORCAST mid-infrared camera, a GREAT heterodyne spectrometer, a HIPO photometer, a FIFI-LS linear far-infrared imaging spectrometer and an on-board high-resolution wideband camera HAWC+.

Initially, it was planned to spend $20 billion on the development of the project and its further 2,98-year operation. However, the costs significantly exceeded expectations. In the first five years alone, the American and German space agencies spent $614 million against the previously planned $265 million.

As a result, SOFIA provided the first photographs during a 10-hour flight in 2010, and already in September 2022, the Boeing 747 made its last scientific flight, then going to the museum.

At the same time, despite its high cost, the SOFIA project allowed the scientific community to make a number of revolutionary discoveries. In particular, it was possible to prove that supernovae can produce cosmic dust, which is the raw material for early galaxies and stars. In addition, SOFIA was able to collect more information about Pluto than the Spitzer and Kepler telescopes.

Also, the stratospheric telescope for the first time measured the content of atomic oxygen in the atmosphere of Mars, discovered a planetary system that has a structure similar to the Solar one, and also allowed for a number of other important scientific research.

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  1. fiv
    9 January 2024 17: 19
    I wonder how they dealt with the vibration?