“First Light” for Airborne Telescope SOFIA

Published: September 06, 2010

SOFIA (Stratospheric Observatory For Infrared Astronomy) performs its first observation flight

Built jointly by NASA and the German Aerospace Center (DLR), with a telescope designed by German companies and engineers tasked by the DLR, the observatory rides on board a converted Boeing 747SP to look out into space from an altitude of 12 kilometers with almost no interference from the Earth’s atmosphere (dSPACE reported on the preparations for this in dSPACE NEWS 1/2008). One of SOFIA’s major components is the 4.6 x 4.3 meters door in the aircraft’s hull, which has the job of opening and closing the telescope cavity at flying speeds of approx. 800 km/h. The control algorithms for the door opening mechanism (built by MPC Products, now Woodward MPC) were developed with a rapid prototyping system consisting of a DS1005 Processor Board and various I/O boards from dSPACE. The algorithm had to take into account a variety of disturbance effects, particularly aerodynamic forces. During its “first light” flight on May 26, 2010, SOFIA made the first astronomical observations in the infrared range.SOFIA’s great advantage is that it combines the effectiveness of satellite-borne telescopes with the comparatively easy maintenance of earthbound observatories.

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