On March 31, a team from the University of California at Davis and NASA Ames installed the Echelon-Cross-Echelle Spectrograph (EXES) science instrument on SOFIA. EXES is a mid-infrared spectrograph that collects data at wavelengths between 4.5 to 28.3 microns, a region of the spectrum with many molecular transitions. SOFIA, a joint project involving NASA and the German Space Agency, is a Boeing 747SP aircraft that carries a 2.5-meter telescope to the stratosphere and above 99 percent of the Earth’s atmospheric water vapor for eight to nine hour observing sessions. At that altitude, large portions of the infrared spectrum become available for astronomical observations. The combination of EXES’s high spectral resolution and SOFIA’s access to new wavelengths will provide data that cannot be duplicated by any facility: past, current, or in development; ground- or space-based. Of particular interest will be studies of H2O, CH4, and H2, basic molecules that are difficult to study from the ground. EXES will have its first two flights on April 7 and 9, 2014.
SOFIA is a joint project of NASA and the German Aerospace Center (DLR). The aircraft is based at NASA Armstrong Flight Research Center that manages the program. NASA Ames Research Center at Moffett Field, Calif., manages the SOFIA science and mission operations in cooperation with the Universities Space Research Association (USRA) headquartered in Columbia, Md., and the German SOFIA Institute (DSI) at the University of Stuttgart.