Firm Flexibility

Tonight’s line operations were cancelled due to open issuesrecertifying work on reworked parts of the telescope assembly (TA) powersubsystem. There are no show-stoppers, just the need for more time for testingand integration. Progress continues to be made. The cautious step was to makethe decision to start line ops tomorrow, and there is a contingency day nextweek to make up time if needed. The schedule for the remaining three nights ofline ops will remain tight, but there is a plan. Creative re-ordering of taskswill be the “philosophy” these next three days. Having worked operations on twospace missions, I can say that operations of any craft, air or space, is askill of “firm flexibility.”

This evening, I experienced a Technical Readiness Review(TRR). This consisted of getting all the leads around a table and walkingthrough the status of each subsystem, who is needed where and when, what typesof testing will be done during the next few days, and when the daily crewbriefings will be held. Also addressed were questions posed by the visitingscience team to the operations team, to fill in some gaps. Today was the firsttime the group had re-assembled since the last line & flight ops, which forthe FORCAST instrument, had been back in March. Since then, two otherinstruments (HIPO/FLITECAM and GREAT) had been installed, tested, and removed,and there have been software upgrades to both the telescope and telescope toscience instrument communications. This phase of operations is pretty complex,folding in highly dynamic items that may seem be changing a lot, but it’sactually normal. And the job of operations is to keep to schedule while stillachieving the tasks. Sometimes the path is different from the exact originalconcept, but if the goals are met, it was a successful journey. At tomorrow’screw briefing at 2130h, open items from today’s TRR will be addressed andclosed before line ops begins, set for 2300h-0500h.

I’m still a bit on the sidelines, watching and learning fromthe experienced SOFIA observers who have worked with SOFIA operations before.During a lull this afternoon, I got a glimpse into the AORs, or AstronomicalObservation Requests, which is how an end-user communicates her requests toenable an observing plan via scripted observational tasks. The AORs for ourupcoming lineops have been written, and one of my roles will be quick look dataanalysis to confirm they executed as expected. My colleague Luke Keller, from Ithaca College, is shown below crafting some new slit-stepping observations.

Oh, I got to step inside SOFIA today. She’s bigger on theinside (compared to what I had expected, that is.).

Author: Kimberly Ennico

Dr Kimberly Ennico Smith is a research scientist at NASA Ames Research Center. Trained with a PhD in astrophysics, with an emphasis on astronomical instrumentation, Kimberly serves several NASA missions in a mission or instrument scientist role. At present she is Deputy Project Scientist New Horizons Pluto Fly-by Mission; Instrument Scientist Regolith & Environment Science and Oxygen & Lunar Volatile Extraction (RESOLVE) Near-Infrared Volatile Spectrometer System; and Instrument Scientist Mid-Infrared Spectroscopy Mode for the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA) FORCAST Instrument. She is also Principal Investigator for a small-sat collapsible telescope design and is actively working to mature low-cost, quick turn-around suborbital and balloon payloads that deliver focused science measurements and promote broader hands-on experience.