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SOFIA Operations, Science Teams Preparing for 'First Light' Flight

Published by Klaus Schmidt on Sat May 22, 2010 10:04 am via: NASA
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The Stratospheric Observatory For Infrared Astronomy, or SOFIA, mission operations and science instrument teams are working nights in a dress rehearsal for the airborne observatory’s Telescope Assembly Characterization and ‘First Light’ flight. The 2.5-meter (100-inch) infrared telescope will be collecting its first celestial imagery during the mission, which could come as early as the last week of May.

The Cornell University team that developed the Faint Object Infrared Camera for the SOFIA Telescope (FORCAST) has traveled from New York to put their infrared camera through its paces. Working alongside NASA researchers and scientists from the German Aerospace Center DLR, the FORCAST team is coordinating how they will use the instrument and telescope in flight. FORCAST is unique in that it records energy coming from space at infrared wavelengths between 5 and 40 microns – most of which cannot be seen by ground-based telescopes due to blockage by water vapor in Earth’s atmosphere.

Beginning May 19 at sundown and continuing for four evenings, the SOFIA is positioned on the flight line adjacent to its hangar at NASA’s Dryden Aircraft Operations Facility in Palmdale, Calif., to observe a series of celestial objects. These procedures, known as “line operations,” provide the aircraft, telescope, and instrument teams the opportunity to work together, simulating, verifying and modifying procedures on the ground before astronomical science flight operations begin.

During the most recent line operations, the SOFIA’s telescope was pointed at Polaris, the North Star, and the planet Mars to enable the telescope team and the FORCAST scientists to check alignment and focus. It also helped verify performance of the telescope and instrument control software packages that have been integrated into the observatory.

FORCAST Line Ops were expected to continue through Saturday, May 22, but could be subject to weather delays.

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