After eight years of operation, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration will soon recall a unique piece of equipment and Flight history. NASA’s Boeing 747SP Stratosphere Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA) telescope will be retired this year.
Sophia They are the latest and largest generation of NASA’s infrared astronomy aircraft. that it armed With a 2.7-meter, 17-ton, 2.5-meter-diameter telescope operating from a hatch in a Boeing 747SP, it is larger than the loading doors of some cargo planes. Being aboard allows the telescope to operate above 99% of the water vapor that blocks infrared radiation in the atmosphere, allowing for better observations than any terrestrial telescope. And since the telescope flies on a plane rather than in low Earth orbit, it’s easier to upgrade as technology advances.
Airborne astronomy has been around since roughly the time humans were flying planes. In the twenties of the last century, NASA NotesAirplanes were used to observe the solar eclipse. Airborne astronomy remained for this purpose for decades until the 1960s, when technological advances allowed aircraft to be more useful in studying the stars.
In 1965, the CV-990 Galileo I mission was noted to be the first to use an aircraft for infrared detection.
That aircraft — as the name suggests — was a Convair CV-990 that has been used By astronomer Dr. Gerard B. Kuiper to observe planets without Most of the water vapor gets in the way. In 1968, physicist Frank Low Learjet used infrared astronomy. These aircraft have made airborne infrared observation a reality, and NASA will continue to develop this concept over the years.
The next aircraft to become an aeronautical observatory will be a modified Lockheed C-141A Starlifter. That aircraft, the Gerard P Kuiper Airborne Observatory, replaced the Galileo Observatory after it was destroyed in an mid-air collision with a US Navy Lockheed P-3C Orion aircraft in 1973. Uranus’ rings, evidence of a black hole at the center of the trail’s galaxy Milky Way, and more.
But even when Kuiper was just soaring through the sky, NASA was thinking about getting even bigger. One of the sites of Sofia Notes That NASA was considering a larger platform in 1974, a Boeing 747SP was considered in 1977.
The Boeing 747SP (Special Performance) was a promising platform. Designed to compete with smaller wide bodies, the 747SP has been shortened and lightened, with greater range and higher speed. It was bred to Pan Am for a 747 capable of carrying a full payload non-stop from New York to Tehran.
The result was an aircraft with a range of 6,650 nautical miles, the highest of any wide-body aircraft from 1976 until 1989 when the 747-400 entered service.
Boeing expected to sell 200747 SP but was able to transport only 45 of them. Sophia I originally entered the service As a passenger airliner with Pan Am on May 6, 1977, the 50th anniversary of Charles Lindbergh’s solo flight from Paris to New York. Pan Am named the plane Clipper Lindbergh I registered it as N536PA.
United Airlines purchased the aircraft in 1986, registered it as N145UA, and operated it until 1995. NASA acquired it in 1997, eventually slapping the N747NA on its sides.
Development SOFIA has been handled by NASA and the Deutsches Zentrum für Luft und Raumfahrt (German Aerospace Centre, or DLR). Boeing was supposed to make modifications to the plane, but by the time NASA finally got its hands on the 747SP, the company had moved on. Instead, L-3 Integrated Systems modified the aircraft. Sophia’s modifications include this massive telescope port, moving the rear pressure bulkhead to before the door, glass cockpit, interior modifications for work areas and more. DLR deals with tools of science.
It took over a decade to bring Sophia into reality and the telescope first saw light in 2010.
Sophia became fully functional in 2014. Like Star Trek‘s projectSophia’s mission was supposed to last five years, and she’s done a lot of work since then. The telescope was used to search for oxygen on Mars, to search for the atmosphere of Pluto, to discover water on the Moon and to observe the universe in the infrared. The Sophia telescope witnessed the birth and death of stars, the formation of new solar systems and even nebulae.
The mission of the flying telescope was extended for another three years, allowing it to see a larger area from an altitude of up to 45,000 feet.
Unfortunately, NASA says The telescope will soon be retired from service. The National Academies’ Decadal Survey of Astronomy and Astrophysics 2020 reviewed the state of astronomical research, including SOFIA. A peer review report concluded that Sophia was no longer productive enough to justify the cost of operating it. Thus, NASA expects to retire on September 30th.
When Sophia retires, she will be one of the last 747SPs to be taken out of the sky. The 747SP has not been in commercial service since 2016 and only three are flying. Two of the engine test units and the other one is resort powered. At the moment, it’s unclear what will happen to the plane, but if it is as lucky as its predecessor, it will be deprecated as a piece of NASA and aviation history.