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NASA To Tweak SOFIA To Enhance Its Productivity—Report

NASA has plans for adjusting operations of a certain astronomical observatory, which functions airborne, to boost productivity. At an AAS meeting, Paul Hertz of NASA stated that these were due to reviews for SOFIA, which is a Boeing plane with one 2.5m telescope installed for infrared observations at a high altitude. He stated that productivity and responsiveness as per needs of community science were being boosted. SOFIA will also fly frequently.

It will function at extremely high altitudes, observing infrared -absorbing vapor, which allows observations impossible from the ground. SOFIA would transition from being in development mode to fully operational. This would increase scientific operations productivity, he said. SOFIA currently is among NASA’s largest projects, with an $85.2 million a year price tag. NASA asked for $73 million for 2020, although House Committees have increased its funding significantly.

Operational since 2014, its 5-year mission was fulfilled in 2019. However, NASA was directed not to use additional money preparing it for senior review, to save on budget. NASA chose to have a scientific and an M&O. Both reviews were complete, with these changes as a consequence. Further specifics are being decided.

The USRA stated that they were awaiting changes too since they had no idea what these productivity-enhancing measures would do. The SST was also excluded from senior review. It is scheduled to be decommissioned, given its long age and distance, which has hampered communications and operations.

Its final phase will end during January next year. Lisa Lombardi, project manager, stated that they were happy about its long lifespan, which was twice the amount of time they had.

NASA had plans to hand over operations to a different organization and had requested bids. However, none of the 2 anonymous companies that applied could obtain the required funding. NASA is finishing senior reviews of other projects like Chandra and Hubble, TESS, NuSTAR, NICER and Fermi. The review was in its final stages. NASA would then decide whether to extend these missions or not, by July.

Gilbert Heist
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