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SOFIA Mission Director Thanks Platform Interface System (PIS) Team for Smoothest Telescope Commanding System Yet
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SOFIA Mission Director Thanks Platform Interface System (PIS) Team for Smoothest Telescope Commanding System Yet

The Stratospheric Observatory For Infrared Astronomy's (SOFIA) upgraded PIS, which commands the SOFIA Telescope Assembly (TA), has been supporting operations during science flights since January 14, 2020. Unlike the original system, which routinely crashed during operations, the upgraded PIS has not crashed once, nor had a single incident that is the root cause of observing issues encountered during flight. SOFIA ended it’s 2021 southern deployment in Tahiti, French Polynesia, with 100% data collected on every leg of the deployment.

The SOFIA Mission Director thanked the PIS and other software and hardware upgrade teams: “While on the last flight yesterday, I was thinking about the flights here and how well they have gone in terms of the observatory mission systems. I wanted to stop for a minute and thank you all (again) for the work on the PIS Upgrade - and corresponding hardware including the TA… I don’t think that I have been on so many consecutive flights where the observatory has run so smoothly – and the only things we had to overly concern ourselves with were things beyond our control” (weather, training new staff, COVID restrictions/concerns, etc.) – “we very much appreciate having such stable and reliable mission systems and TA while here in Tahiti; and of course that helped enable us to get maximum science while in the air!”

BACKGROUND: SOFIA is the largest airborne observatory in the world and consists of a Boeing 747SP carrying a 2.4-meter reflecting telescope. PIS is the data processing and control hub for the SOFIA observatory. It allows for communication between the TA, science instruments, telescope operators, and astronomers, and implements the SOFIA Control Language (SCL) logic required to coordinate TA actions for the science instruments and telescope operators.

In 2014, the Intelligent Systems Division was tasked with standing up a NASA team comprised of developers from Ames Research Center (ARC) and Armstrong Flight Research Center (AFRC) to maintain the original PIS, which took L3 Technologies (formerly L-3 Communications) over ten years to develop. It took our ISD-led team over three years to stabilize PIS so that it did not crash multiple times during each science flight. Once PIS was relatively stable, the team obtained the SOFIA Program’s approval to rearchitect and rewrite PIS in 24 months. During this time period, the team held to the schedule and met every milestone, even with a five-week government shutdown. Ultimately, the team delivered a new system that is stable, has better pointing accuracy, and is orders of magnitude faster than the old system.

NASA PROGRAM FUNDING: Stratospheric Observatory For Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA) Program, Science Mission Directorate (SMD)

TEAM: Lee Brownston (SGT), Scott Christa (SGT), Steve Culp (Wyle), Brian Curlett (AFRC), Mary Alice Grossman (AFRC), Qi Lin (SGT), Vikie Moore (SGT), John Rasmussen (SGT), Sam Santiago, Hao Thai (SGT), May Windrem, and Enya Yang (SGT); COLLABORATORS: Mike Gross (USRA) and Bill Wohler (Wyle); CUSTOMERS: Astrophysics at large and the Deutsches SOFIA Institut (DSI)


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