NASA, DLR to retire Boeing 747 observatory SOFIA

Photo: © Phillip Rohmberger / IFN

NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) and its partner DLR (Deutsches Luft- und Raumfahrtzentrum/German aerospace Center) have announced the planned retirement of its flying observatory, the Boeing 747SP nicknamed SOFIA, in September.

This comes after a review by the National Academy of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine showed an ever increasing difference between the operating costs of SOFIA and scientific usefulness of the gathered data, which makes operating the Boeing 747 unsustainable for a continued mission.

Since embarking on its first mission in 2014, SOFIA has operated more than 800 flights from airports around the world. Most of these flights departed from its base in Palmdale, CA, but SOFIA has also been a frequent visitor to the Southern Hemisphere, for example with its most recent mission which saw it based out of Santiago de Chile in March 2022, or the European continent with various visits to German airports over the past eight years.

The distinguishing feature of SOFIA from other airplanes used for research purposes, is the massive 17 tons and 2.7m diameter telescope installed in the fuselage of the 747SP, for which a special door and pressure chamber had to be installed into the aircraft. This was made possible by widening the fuselage in the rear section just before the vertical stabilizer slightly and adapting the interior of the cabin to its new use.