NASA’s Boeing 747 Telescope Is Flying To Hamburg

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NASA’s 747SP, the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy, abbreviated SOFIA, has crossed the Atlantic on her way to Lufthansa Technik in Hamburg. The one-of-a-kind aircraft will be touching down shortly after 19:00 local time this evening to undergo a C-check with the German maintenance specialist.

SOFIA
The Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy is on its way to Germany. Photo: NASA

On her way for a C-check

The modified jetliner, which carries a 106-inch diameter telescope, is currently on her way from California, USA, to Hamburg, Germany. A spokesperson for Lufthansa Technik told Simple Flying that the aircraft is to run through a C-check with the maintenance provider. In addition, some of the scientific equipment is to undergo technical servicing. A C-check usually takes an aircraft out of use for one to two weeks.

This is not the first time SOFIA has made a call at Lufthansa Technik’s headquarters. SOFIA made the journey to the hangars in Hamburg for a complete overhaul in 2014. She then came back in 2017 for a scheduled heavy maintenance check.

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The intention is to keep the near 43-year-old Special Performance plane, a joint project between the German Aerospace Center (DLR) and the US National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), functioning optimally so that it can fulfill its mission reliably until 2034.

sofia on her way to hamburg
When last we checked in on her, the SOFIA had just flown over Iceland. Photo: FlightRadar24.com

Took off just before midnight

The aircraft took off from Palmdale Airport in California at 23:57, three minutes ahead of the scheduled departure time of 00:00. When Simple Flying checked in with the SOFIA on flight NASA747, she had just crossed over the southern part of Iceland and was heading towards the Faroe Islands. Live tracking of the flight is available here.

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Operations resumed in August

NASA suspended operations with the SOFIA on March 19th in response to the ongoing situation. The unique 747 resumed a four-weekly flight schedule on August 31st, following test flights were her team evaluated a new set of procedures.

“We are so thrilled to begin observations again and very thankful to the scientists, operations staff and pilots who are returning us to flight,” Margaret Meixner, SOFIA’s science mission operations director at the Universities Space Research Association said at the time. “In this flight series, SOFIA is studying the chemistry that influences the creation and evolution of galaxies across cosmic history. We cannot wait to see the data.”

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nasa sofia flies to hamburg
On the latest flight series, the astronomers of the SOFIA collected data on how stars are born. Photo: Getty Images

Researching the birth of stars

As the SOFIA has now headed for her C-check in Germany, one could assume that the latest flight series has been completed. As its objective was to explore distant galaxies to learn how black holes control their growth and understand how stars are born, we cannot wait to see the data either.

This is sure to build on the observations of the Swan Nebula, which NASA has dubbed a “star factory,” at the core of the Milky Way galaxy from earlier this year.

Lufthansa Technik’s spokesperson said more details on the esteemed visit would be released tomorrow, so be sure to check back in with us for more SOFIA updates.

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