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Special guests require special treatment – this is especially true for one of the most valuable aircraft in the world. SOFIA, the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy, is the world's only airborne observatory. The aircraft type alone – a Boeing 747SP – is something of a stellar object, since only a few of these are still in operation today. But SOFIA is more than an aircraft. It is first and foremost a flying laboratory with equipment that makes the airplane unique both from the technological and structural point of view. SOFIA exemplifies a galaxy of technical services that allows this aircraft to fulfill its special mission reliably until 2034.
After a complete overhaul (D-check) in 2014, SOFIA visited our hangars in Hamburg again at the end of 2017 for a scheduled heavy check. Heinz Hammes, Project Manager SOFIA, at the German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt, DLR) shares his impression on the co-operation with us.
weight of SOFIA's telescope
accumulated to date by the 747SP
"The extensive experience with Boeing 747SP aircraft was decisive for us when we chose Lufthansa Technik as maintenance provider for SOFIA's maintenance visit. After the D-check in 2014, we were glad to return the aircraft to the capable hands of Lufthansa Technik as we were extremely impressed with the high quality of work and expertise of their staff. They managed to meet the special needs of the NASA/DLR partnership by providing integrated observatory maintenance on our uniquely modified and highly specialized 747SP.
Heinz studied systems safety engineering and joined the DLR Space Administration early in his career. Since 1998, he has been working mainly on the SOFIA project and led the mechanical integration of the telescope in the aircraft in the United States. He was involved in the testing of the telescope and of the aircraft and in all major observatory milestones as well. He has been Project Manager for SOFIA at DLR since June 2016.
A 2.7-meter reflecting telescope inside a highly modified Boeing 747SP, SOFIA operates at altitudes of up to 14 kilometers. SOFIA performs astronomical observations in the infrared and submillimetre wavelengths, high above the interference of Earth's atmosphere, where water vapor in the troposphere hinders observations in the infrared. With about 160 astronomy flights a year, SOFIA's scientific objective is to understand the development of galaxies and the formation and evolution of stars and planetary systems from interstellar clouds of gas and dust.
SOFIA is a joint project operated by the German Aerospace Center (DLR) and the US National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). The German SOFIA Institute (DSI) at the University of Stuttgart maintains the SOFIA telescope on behalf of DLR, while the Universities Space Research Association (USRA) runs the SOFIA Science Mission Operations Center on behalf of NASA.
Some features of SOFIA: