Status of SOFIA and plans to move forward during the COVID-19 pandemic
Columbia, MD and Mountain View, CA—June 18, 2020. For many years, SOFIA has deployed the observatory to Christchurch, NZ, during the northern summer in order to take advantage of its excellent observing conditions and its access to important Southern Hemisphere astronomical targets, especially the Inner Galaxy and the Magellanic Clouds. After an extensive planning effort and a lot of careful consideration of the risk to staff and the scientific program, the observatory leadership has concluded that a Southern deployment in 2020 is not feasible and cannot occur. Many issues, such as international travel of a multi-national team and strict quarantine restrictions, proved to be too difficult to overcome without incurring unacceptable risk to achieving our scientific objectives. This was a difficult decision, and we did not make it lightly. We will be reviewing the selected scientific programs that are affected as a result of this decision and the possibility of conducting them in future Southern deployments.
The observatory is planning to return to science flights in Palmdale, California base, in July. Initial flight planning shows that many of the highest priority Cycle 8 scientific programs can indeed be completed from Palmdale through the Northern Summer and Autumn months. Thus, despite the lack of Southern deployment, the observatory can achieve highly ranked science programs from the north.
The entire observatory team is working hard to implement safe procedures to resume SOFIA operations. Once the final plans are approved, we will inform the SOFIA community about the status of approved Cycle 8 proposals and the revised observing schedule. “The SOFIA team is grateful for the continued support it is receiving from the international science community and our partners, and our sponsor NASA”, said Margaret Meixner, Director of SOFIA program. "We will get through this difficult hiatus together and achieve the expected SOFIA science objectives this year and going forward."
Founded in 1969, under the auspices of the National Academy of Sciences at the request of the U.S. Government, the Universities Space Research Association (USRA) is a nonprofit corporation chartered to advance space-related science, technology and engineering. USRA operates scientific institutes and facilities, and conducts other major research and educational programs, under Federal funding. USRA engages the university community and employs in-house scientific leadership, innovative research and development, and project management expertise. More information about USRA is available at www.usra.edu.