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SOFIA Science Operations

The Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy achieved Full Operational Capability in 2014 and is designed for a long lifetime. The Universities Space Research Association (USRA) and the Deutsches SOFIA Institut (DSI) are responsible for Science Mission Operations (SMO) for SOFIA. The SMO is the primary interface between SOFIA and the scientific community, responsible for operating SOFIA as a scientifically productive observatory. The SMO is responsible for mission planning, science planning and allocation, telescope and mission systems operation, guest observer and grant program, data pipelining, data archive, non-aircraft observatory facilities, instrument support, and education and public outreach (led at the program level). The SMO Director implements and executes policies in support of these functions with inputs and concurrence from the NASA, DLR and the SOFIA Science Project Council.

The SMO team operates at both the SOFIA Science Center located at NASA Ames, and the SOFIA Operations Center located at the Armstrong Flight Research Center. Mission flight operations are conducted from Armstrong, where the aircraft is permanently hangared, and where the science instruments will be prepared and integrated with the telescope assembly. Raw science data from the science instruments are collected onboard SOFIA and transmitted from Armstrong ground facilities to Ames for processing, archival, and researcher access. SMO and NASA personnel at the SOFIA Science Center also provide all long range mission planning, science instrument configuration control, and systems integration facilities for instrument check out, mission operations personnel training, and mission planning activities. Support functions relating to aircraft, including crew, airframe and power plant maintenance and repair, and fueling operations are provided by Armstrong.

SMO facilities located at the SOFIA Science Center include offices, labs, and conference facilities to conduct management, science and mission planning operations. Support includes:

  • Mission planning tools
  • Proposal tools
  • Science data archival
  • Pipeline software development and maintenance

SOFIA Operations Center facilities at Armstong include a mirror coating facility, instrument readiness rooms, a pre-flight integration facility, a systems integration laboratory, and investigator offices. Support includes:

  • Electrical, mechanical, optical, and computer maintenance
  • Software (instrument control and aircraft interface) maintenance
  • Instrument configuration management, testing, and installation
  • Deployment support