A modified Boeing 747SP aircraft SOFIA (Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy) has arrived in Hamburg for a routine check at Lufthansa Technik.

    Lufthansa Technik announced that the flying observatory of the US space agency NASA and the German Aerospace Center (DLR) landed at Hamburg Airport on 30 September. The company says that, during this layover which is equivalent to a C-check taking place approximately every three years, the Boeing 747SP is put through its paces.

    “We are looking forward to the renewed cooperation with Lufthansa Technik,” SOFIA project manager at DLR’s Space Administration branch, Heinz Hammes comments. “The special circumstances this year require cooperation and increased flexibility from all parties involved. We are convinced that we are in the right place for the tasks ahead.”

    New air conditioning

    The aircraft will be repaired in accordance with NASA regulations and the aircraft structure undergoes extensive inspections before necessary repairs are carried out. Lufthansa Technik says the engines and the cabin, including the panelling and floors, are removed.

    In addition, the air conditioning system will be upgraded. “This will enable us to adjust the temperature in the cabin very finely in future,” Hammes says. “This is particularly important in the instrument zone, because every research instrument requires a precisely fitting ambient temperature.”

    The final checks at Lufthansa Technik, including checks on the engines and the cabin’s internal pressurisation are scheduled for mid-December and the maintenance work should be completed by the beginning of February when SOFIA is planned to resume its scientific operations.

    The company revealed that the telescope on board of SOFIA will also be thoroughly overhauled. This work will be carried out exclusively by the staff of the German SOFIA Institute at the University of Stuttgart, who are very familiar with this globally unique system.

    Lufthansa Technik says all work on the aircraft is carried out under strict safety precautions due to the global coronavirus pandemic and both Lufthansa Technik and NASA have coordinated comprehensive procedures for working in and on the aircraft, including a rule that no more than 15 people may be on board at at the same time. In addition, all technicians have to wear a mouth-and-nose protection during the entire work.