Douglas Isbell Headquarters, Washington, (Phone: 202/358-1753


December 16, 1996

David Morse Ames Research Center, Mountain View, CA (Phone: 415/604-4724) RELEASE: 96-259 NASA AWARDS CONTRACT FOR AIRBORNE ASTRONOMICAL OBSERVATORY NASA has selected a team led by the Universities Space Research Association (USRA), Columbia, MD, for the award of an estimated $ 484.2 million contract to acquire, develop and operate the new Stratospheric Observatory For Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA). The Cost-Plus-Incentive and Award Fee-type contract has a base period for development plus one five-year operations cycle. The contract also contains an option period for one additional five-year operations cycle. SOFIA is expected to be operated for at least 20 years. The total contract value includes the base period plus all priced options. The contract will be managed by NASAÕs Ames Research Center, Mountain View, CA. Other team members include Central Texas Airborne Systems (CTAS), Waco, TX, a division of Raytheon; United Airlines, San Francisco; an alliance of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific and The SETI Institute, both of Mountain View, CA; Sterling Software, Redwood City, CA; and, the University of California at Berkeley and Los Angeles. ÒThe SOFIA program is a stellar example of NASAÕs new ways of doing business. We have taken the parts of a space science program that the private sector can do better and more cost effectively than the government, and had a competitive selection for the privilege of performing those duties,Ó said NASA Administrator Daniel S. Goldin. ÒIn addition, weÕve combined the development and operations phases of the program into one seamless transition, ensuring that this flexible, international airborne observatory will serve the scientific community efficiently for two decades or

more.Ó The contract calls for the selected company to acquire an existing Boeing 747 SP aircraft, design and implement a modification program to accommodate installation of a large infrared telescope, test and deliver the flying astronomical observatory to NASA, and provide mission and operations support in five-year increments. USRAÕs proposal calls for operating the aircraft out of Moffett Federal Airfield, Mountain View, CA. ÒAll of the offerors submitted very good proposals,Ó said Dr. Wesley T. Huntress Jr., NASA Associate Administrator for Space Science. ÒThe USRA proposal stood out amongst these on the basis of mission suitability and cost.Ó SOFIA will fly in the EarthÕs stratosphere, between 41,000 and 45,000 feet, carrying a 98-inch (2.5 meter) telescope to view objects in the Universe in the infrared region of the electromagnetic spectrum. At this altitude, in the clear, dry environment on the very edge of space, SOFIA will enable scientists to study radiant heat patterns from stars, planets and other celestial sources. The SOFIA telescope will be provided by the German space agency, DARA, pending completion of a formal Memorandum of Understanding with NASA. DARA also will participate in the operation of SOFIA. In addition, as many as 15 state-of-theart science instruments will be developed by SOFIA researchers and integrated within the flying laboratory on an annual basis by the selected contract awardee. The contractor also will manage an extensive SOFIA educational outreach program for teachers and students in kindergarten through college. It is anticipated that the 747 SP aircraft will be purchased in early 1997 and modifications to the vehicle will begin in mid-1998. The telescope will be integrated and tested by late in the year 2000, with science flights scheduled to begin in 2001. Radiation data from astronomical sources cannot typically be collected at terrestrial sites because it is absorbed by atmospheric water vapor before it reaches the Earth's surface. This applies to most infrared light, gamma

rays, X-rays and ultraviolet light. SOFIA will overcome this limitation by operating above more than 85 percent of the Earth's atmosphere and 99 percent of its radiation-absorbing water vapor. SOFIA will also have the advantage of being able to switch science instruments, to be upgraded, and to be deployed rapidly to diverse geographic locations throughout the northern or southern hemisphere to observe astronomical areas of emerging interest. The primary science objectives of SOFIA are to study the composition of planetary atmospheres and surfaces; to investigate the structure, evolution and composition of comets; to determine the physics and chemistry of the interstellar medium; and to explore the formation of stars and other stellar objects. With up to 160 flights annually, SOFIA will be able to conduct a wide array of scientific investigations and provide hands-on, real-world educational opportunities for an anticipated 500 teachers and students. The innovative SOFIA contract calls for development and operation of the flying observatory in a totally privatized manner. The SOFIA science program is modeled on the highly successful operation of the Hubble Space Telescope by the Space Telescope Science Institute. SOFIA is an updated version of its predecessor, the Kuiper Airborne Observatory (KAO), named for Gerard P. Kuiper, a University of Arizona astronomer who conceived the idea of a flying astronomical observatory in the mid-1960s. The KAO was a converted C-141 military cargo plane equipped with a 36-inch reflecting infrared telescope. It began operations in 1974, and for nearly 22 years conducted scientific missions, making some of the most important discoveries in infrared astronomical science. Notable among the KAO's accomplishments were the first sightings of the rings of Uranus, the identification of Pluto's atmosphere, the discovery of water vapor in the thick atmospheres of Jupiter and Saturn, and the development of clues to the early chemical composition of the solar system. SOFIA's telescope will be more than 2-1/2 times larger than the KAO's affording even greater opportunity for scientific discovery.

The winning proposal by USRA was selected over others submitted by Hughes STX, Lanham, MD; Lockheed Martin Missiles and Space, Sunnyvale, CA; and the University of Texas at Austin. Additional information about SOFIA can be obtained by visiting the project's homepage web site on the Internet at: A full-color artist's conception of SOFIA can be found at: -end-