The Stratospheric Observatory For Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA) is a 2.5-m telescope mounted inside of a Boeing 747SP. Planning and executing astronomical observations from an aircraft moving at 500 miles per hour has its own unique challenges and advantages. Scheduling and optimizing an entire year of science observations is a balancing act with target availability, instrument availability, and operational constraints. A SOFIA flight is well choreographed, and successfully executing observations on SOFIA requires many systems and people to work together- from the telescope assembly compensating for the continual vibration and movement of the plane in order to accurately point the telescope, the expertise of the telescope operators to prepare the telescope for use by the instrument operators, aircraft operations ensuring that the aircraft is ready for flight, and the mission systems control computers keeping track of all the data. In this paper we will discuss what it takes to plan a SOFIA flight, and what we do once we’re in the air. We will share a typical science flight, as well as more challenging and unique observations that require SOFIA being in the right place at the right time.
K. Leppik, K. Leppik,
"SOFIA: flight planning and execution", Proc. SPIE 9973, Infrared Remote Sensing and Instrumentation XXIV, 99730N (14 September 2016); doi: 10.1117/12.2237933; https://doi.org/10.1117/12.2237933