NASA released a solicitation for proposals for next generation science instrument(s) that will harness the unique capabilities of SOFIA, the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy.
SOFIA is a Boeing 747SP aircraft that carries a 100-inch telescope and science instruments to 38,000- 45,000 feet. At these altitudes, it is above more than 99 percent of Earth’s atmospheric water vapor, thereby opening up wavelengths for astronomical observations not available from the ground. Unlike most space missions, its scientific instruments can be exchanged between flights to accommodate changing science requirements and to incorporate new technologies.
The science instrument selected for SOFIA in 2016 is currently being built by a team at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. The High Resolution Mid-InfrarEd Spectrometer (HIRMES) will help researchers determine the location of the raw materials that are the building blocks of life and to better understand how they help planetary systems, like our own solar system, evolve. It’s scheduled to fly on SOFIA in 2019.
SOFIA’s newest instrument, regularly used for observations from 40,000 feet, is an infrared camera and polarimeter, which can be used to map celestial magnetic fields. It’s helping researchers better understand how stars form, how gas cools in the interstellar medium, and how magnetic fields are creating stellar winds around black holes.
The Step-1 proposals are due August 1, 2018.