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SOFIA Airborne Observatory of NASA faces extinction once more

WASHINGTON- The fiscal year 2021 budget of NASA call for proposes terminating an Airborne Observatory. This is a move that has perplexed most astronomers; however, it is also not the initial time the scheme has faced cancellation.

The financial plan proposal, released on February 10, incorporated the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA) among other programs scheduled for cancelation. SOFIA that got $85.2 million in the 2020 appropriations bill fiscal year would receive $12 million in the 2021 fiscal year to close out the agenda and mothball the observatory.

SOFIA is a Boeing 747 having a telescope of about 2.5 meters fixed on its fuselage. Equipped with an infrared instruments suite, it undertakes observations while at a high altitude, above most of the atmospheric water vapor that takes in infrared light. The scheme is a combined effort with the space agency of Germany DLR.

In its financial plan documents, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) of the White House stated that the scientific return of SOFIA did not justify its expenditure. SOFIA is on the current times second most costly astrophysics project at NASA, at the back of only the Hubble Space Telescope that got $98.3 million in the year 2019, and for this, NASA demanded $88.9 million in the year 2021. The James Webb Space Telescope, although, will be more costly to use, an estimated $172 million annually, according to the financial plan proposal. Immediately it enters service after its debut in the year 2021.

OMB confirmed that SOFIA had not offered products of high-quality data or science on balance with other big science projects. Forthcoming projections do not show a dramatic enhancement in the scientific productivity of SOFIA in the coming few years. The high working expenses of an airborne venture like SOFIA leads to low-cost efficiency in comparison with too many observatories.

It stated that NASA gave the same language in its financial plan justification. The annual operations budget of SOFIA is the second most costly working mission in the Astrophysics Division, which comes after the Hubble Space Telescope. Yet the science output of the mission is not equal with other big science missions. It added that the theatrical improvement in the scientific productivity of SOFIA is not anticipated.

NASA was singing a different tune in the previous month. Paul Hertz, who is the director of the astrophysics division of NASA, stated during a SOFIA town hall conference that their plans for their overall mission comprise of most fresh ventures that will enhance SOFIA’s community service.