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NASA to adjust SOFIA flying telescope's operations to improve productivity

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In a town hall presentation at the 234th Meeting of the American Astronomical Society here June 10, Paul Hertz, director of NASA's astrophysics division, said those upcoming changes are the outcome of a pair of reviews of the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA), a Boeing 747 equipped with a 2.5-meter telescope for high-altitude infrared observations.

"We will be making changes in the SOFIA project to improve its productivity and make it as responsive as it can be to community science priorities," he said.


Among the changes, he said, will be for SOFIA to fly more frequently. Those flights will also be designed to spend more time at high altitudes, where the plane is above most of the infrared-absorbing water vapor in the atmosphere, enabling observations not possible from ground-based observatories. "We're going to complete the transition of SOFIA from a developmental mindset into an operational mindset that we anticipate will create a more productive science operations mode," Hertz said.


SOFIA, formally declared operational in 2014, completed its original five-year prime mission in 2019 and would have been included in this year's astrophysics senior review. However, language in the fiscal year 2018 appropriations act directed NASA not to spend any money preparing SOFIA for the senior review.

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