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10 years German SOFIA Institute at the University of Stuttgart

01.12.2014 - (idw) Universität Stuttgart

Stuttgarts eye into the Universe The German SOFIA Institute (DSI) at the University of Stuttgart has decisively supported and accompanied the completion and commissioning of SOFIA, the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy operated by the American Space Agency NASA and the German Aerospace Centre (DLR) since it was founded in 2004. Ten years later SOFIA has reached operational status and is now comparable with a space mission that already has numerous scientific successes to show for itself. Even the possibility considered by the proposed budget plans of the US government in March this year to shut down the project has been set aside. On 25th November 2014 the jubilee was celebrated with project partners, sponsors, companions and friends. The ceremonial addresses gave an overview about the history of the DSI, about challenges, successes and opportunities and introduced the research work of the flying observatory.

Prof. Wolfram Ressel, the Rector of the University of Stuttgart, emphasised: It was yet another milestone for the internationally successful and renowned Stuttgart aerospace when the University of Stuttgart received the award as the operational centre for SOFIA in 2004 over numerous competitors. Since then SOFIA has evolved into a nucleus of interdisciplinary research reaching far beyond the borders of aerospace. The 10-year jubilee is an event we associate with the hope that the American government ensures the financing of SOFIA and consequently the future of the project in the long term. Prof. Alfred Krabbe, who took over the management of the DSI in 2009, also sees ample reasons to celebrate: On 29th May 2014 SOFIA officially reached so-called Full Operational Capability (FOC), the full operating status. This change in status is comparable with the start of a space mission. Consequently, the possibility considered by the proposed budget plans of the US government in March this year to shut down the project has been set aside and the financing assured by SOFIA in the long term.

When the DSI was founded in 2004 the completion of the modification measures to the aircraft and initial ground tests in the observatory were paramount. Furthermore, DSI engineers prepared the telescope on SOFIAs maiden flight on 26th April 2007 and were also on board themselves when this was activated for the first time half a year later. The first flight with a completely open door in December 2009 was also substantially prepared by employees of the University of Stuttgart. After the successful so-called First Light Flight in May 2010 the number of scientific flights by SOFIA has constantly increased. The German telescope, the centrepiece of SOFIA, thereby always worked precisely and provided excellent scientific data. As early as 2012 the first two volumes were published in renowned astronomical journals that were based on SOFIA observations. The scientific highlight up to now had been nine flights during which the southern sky with the Magellanic Clouds and the Galactic Centre was successfully investigated with GREAT from New Zealand. On 17th November the first nature paper based on SOFIA data was published. In this paper a new, more precise method to determine the age of star forming regions was presented by a team led by researchers from the University of Cologne. It required far infrared data that at present can only be supplied by SOFIA.

Last but not least the aircraft will be ready to fly for the next six years at the end of November after a successful overhaul at Lufthansa Technik in Hamburg. The selection of observation programs for the next observation cycle has been concluded and the preparations for the flight schedule are running at full speed. A five-week campaign to New Zealand is planned for 2015 during which two SOFIA tools are to be used this time. SOFIA is back to science!, is how Alfred Krabbe summarised it.

Further information:
Dörte Mehlert, University of Stuttgart, German SOFIA Institute (DSI), Tel.: +49(0)711-685- 69632
Email: mehlert (at),

Andrea Mayer-Grenu, University of Stuttgart, Department of University Communication, Tel. +49.(0)711.685-82176
SOFIA, the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy, is a joint venture of the Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt e.V. (German Aerospace Centre)(DLR; Fond: 50OK0901) and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). It is being conducted at the instigation of the DLR with funds from the Federal Ministry of the Economy and Technology based on a resolution by the German Bundestag and with funds from the State of Baden-Württemberg and the University of Stuttgart. The scientific operation is being coordinated on the German side by the German SOFIA Institute (DSI) from the University of Stuttgart, on the American side by the Universities Space Research Association (USRA). The development of the German tools is financed using resources from the Max-Planck-Gesellschaft (MPG), the German Research Foundation (DFG) and the DLR.

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