WASHINGTON — Regardless of going through the specter of cancellation for the second straight yr, a NASA airborne observatory is continuous with common operations.
NASA’s fiscal yr 2022 funds request, launched Could 28, included a proposal to finish the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA), a modified Boeing 747 outfitted with a 2.5-meter telescope to carry out infrared observations. The company argued in its funds justification that the excessive value of working SOFIA, about $85 million per yr, was not justified given the low scientific output of the observatory.
The proposal marks the second yr in a row, and third time in eight years, that NASA proposed shutting down SOFIA. In each its fiscal yr 2015 and 2021 funds requests, NASA proposed terminating SOFIA, solely to have Congress reject the proposal and totally fund the mission.
A SOFIA official, talking at a June 9 session of the 238th Assembly of the American Astronomical Society, didn’t sound alarmed by the most recent proposal to cancel the observatory. “We’ve been on this place earlier than the place the president doesn’t have us within the funds,” mentioned Margaret Meixner, director of SOFIA science mission operations on the SOFIA Science Heart. “We’re planning for achievement.”
That planning consists of common flights of the observatory out of its dwelling base in Palmdale, California. SOFIA is within the last weeks of a collection of observations known as Cycle 8, scheduled to conclude in early July. That will likely be instantly adopted by the following collection of observations, Cycle 9, that may embody a deployment beginning in July to French Polynesia for Southern Hemisphere observations.
Demand stays excessive for SOFIA, Meixner mentioned, with an oversubscription charge, the ratio of the quantity of observing time requested in proposals to the period of time out there, larger than 4 in Cycle 9.
“We have now lots of nice science to sit up for in Cycle 9,” she mentioned. The mission is getting ready to proceed with a name for proposals for the spherical of observations, Cycle 10, within the fall.
NASA hasn’t elaborated on the explanation its funds proposal as soon as once more sought to terminate SOFIA past its excessive value — solely Hubble has the next working value amongst astrophysics missions in operation — that the company deemed was not justified by its scientific productiveness. NASA beforehand sought to deal with this with research in search of methods to enhance its efficiency or, within the phrases of 1 official, “extra discoveries per greenback.”
“That is the administration’s proposal to the Congress, which must resolve whether or not to just accept that proposal,” Paul Hertz, director of NASA’s astrophysics division, mentioned at a June 2 assembly of the Astronomy and Astrophysics Advisory Committee.
He added that his concern is that Congress might resolve to revive funding for SOFIA, however not improve the general astrophysics funds, which is what occurred in fiscal yr 2021. “I hope that any uppers that Congress needs us to do, they add the cash to the funds, whether or not it’s SOFIA or some other mission,” he mentioned.