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Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA)

SOFIALogoThe Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA) is a joint project of NASA and the German Aerospace Center (DLR) to construct, operate, and maintain an airborne observatory. NASA awarded the contract for the development of the aircraft, operation of the observatory and management of the American part of the project to the Universities Space Research Association (USRA) in 1996. The DSI (Deutsches SOFIA Institut) manages the German parts of the project which are primarily science and telescope related. SOFIA's telescope saw first light on May 26, 2010. SOFIA is the successor to the Kuiper Airborne Observatory.

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What is SOFIA?

SOFIA is based on a Boeing 747SP wide-body aircraft modified to include a large door in the aft fuselage that can be opened in flight to allow a 2.5 meter diameter reflecting telescope access to the sky. This telescope is designed for infrared astronomy observations in the stratosphere at altitudes of about 41,000 feet (about 12 km). SOFIA's flight capability allows it to rise above almost all of the water vapor in the Earth's atmosphere which blocks infrared wavelengths. At the aircraft's cruising altitude, 85% of the full infrared range is be available. The aircraft can also travel to almost any point on the Earth's surface, allowing observation from the northern or southern hemispheres.

Operationally, the observatory flies three or four nights a week for the next 20 years. SOFIA is now based at NASA's Armstrong Aircraft Operations Facility at Palmdale, California, while staff at NASA Ames Research Center, in Mountain View, California, operate the SOFIA Science Center where astronomical observation missions are planned for the flying observatory. SOFIA is currently flying missions with hardware and software subsystems designed and built by STAR Fellows! Given the complexity of the central project, SOFIA's leaders really value STAR Fellows interested in participating for several years in a row.

Summer Research Opportunities

SOFIA will be offering several STAR Fellowships. Like other 'big science' projects, SOFIA is a collaborative effort between many researchers and engineers at several locations. Fellows must expect to work independently, but communicate effectively with a large research team on tight deadlines. Fellows must be highly motivated and fearless when tackling complex problems! Applicants may be asked to participate in multiple interviews. STAR placements on the SOFIA project may be located at NASA Ames in Mountain View, CA, at the Armstrong Flight Research Center near Palmdale, CA, or at the aircraft base (varies). Software development and mathematical backgrounds are in high demand, but the program also has need of Fellows with electrical or mechanical engineering skills. Research mentors are likely to provide a considerable amount of background reading before and during fellowships.

Past SOFIA Projects include

Visit the Cal Poly Digital Commons to browse previous STAR Fellow projects at this site.


Please note. SOFIA projects take place at several research centers including NASA Armstrong, NASA Ames, and the current location of the aircraft. Your Research Mentor will identify the project site with you.