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It's over for Sofia: a Boeing 747 converted into an observatory will retire

It’s over for Sofia: a Boeing 747 converted into an observatory will retire

It has completed about 800 flights in flag service. Now NASA and the German Aerospace Center are decommissioning the Boeing 747SP, which has been converted into a flying observatory.

The flight of the Boeing 747 SP, converted into a flying observatory, has ended: the US space agency NASA and the German Aerospace Center DLR jointly decided to end flight operations from Sofia (Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy) in September 2022.

“This decision is based on a recommendation from the Decadal Survey of the National Academy of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, in which priorities were set for the long-term direction of astronomical research in the United States,” explains Walther Pelzer, head of the German Space Agency at the DLR. “These recommendations are extremely binding on NASA.”

About 800 scientific excursions

With the start of regular operations in 2014, Sophia Science was used with a total of about 800 flights. Transformed into an infrared astronomy observatory, the Boeing 747SP completed its main five-year mission in 2019 and extended it for another three years until 2022.

Germany supplied the world’s only 2.7-meter telescope, which is included in the fuselage in Sofia, and contributes 20 percent to operating costs. In turn, about 30 scientific excursions are allocated to groups of scientists from Germany annually. NASA purchased a used Boeing 747 and modified accordingly for the installation of the telescope. NASA also operates an observatory in Palmdale, California, the original Sofia Airport.

How do stars form?

The infrared observatory specializes in monitoring far infrared rays. In particular, he makes contributions to questions of astrochemistry and astrophysics. Sofia discovered the first molecule – helium hydride – that formed in the universe nearly 14 billion years ago in 2019. She also researched how galaxies evolved and how stars and planetary systems form from interstellar clouds of particles and dust.

In the image gallery above, you can take another look at the Flying Observatory and enter it and learn more about the Boeing 747 SP special.