NASA has completed the first science mission of its Sofia stratospheric observatory for infrared astronomy airborne science platform, a modified Boeing 747SP (N747NA) managed by NASA's Ames Research Center. After a rehearsal mission 29 November, the flight operations and science team departed from Palmdale, California on 30 November and climbed to 43,000ft (13,100m). On station, operators opened the 4.6 x 4.3m door on the back left side of the aircraft, allowing Sofia's 254cm (100in) diameter, 19t infrared telescope's Faint Object Infrared Camera instrument to observe targets for 6h. NASA was planning to fly two more missions with the faint object camera in early December. In February 2011, an instrument developed by the Max-Planck Institute in Germany will be installed in the observatory for three flights during the second phase of the programme.

NASA Sofia stratospheric observatory
 © Tom Tschida/NASA

Source: Flight International