For Researchers

Deutsches SOFIA Institut (DSI)

This page contains information and links for researchers interested in using SOFIA (Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy)

The Stratospheric Observatory For Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA) is an 80/20 project of NASA and the German Aerospace Center (DLR). SOFIA is based on a modified Boeing 747SP aircraft carrying a reflecting telescope with an effective diameter of 2.5 meters.

The aircraft is based at NASA's Armstrong Flight Research Center in Palmdale, California, USA.
The SOFIA Program Office is at NASA Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California, USA. It manages SOFIA's science and mission operations in cooperation with the Universities Space Research Association (
USRA) and the German SOFIA Institute (DSI,  University of Stuttgart).

SOFIA Aircraft
The SOFIA aircraft is a highly modified Boeing 747SP (it is a short-body version of the 747, designed for longer flights than the Boeing 747 Classics). A typical 747SP seats 232 passengers versus 624 seats on a 747-400; only 45 747SP jetliners were built.
In years 1977-1986 the aircraft was operating by Pan American World Airways; from February 1986 until December 1995 was flying for United Airlines.
In 1997 the airplane was purchased by NASA.
First astronomical observations were done by SOFIA in 2010 (Jupiter and the Messier 82 (M82) galaxy).

SOFIA Telescope
SOFIA’s primary mirror is 2.7 meters, however the telescope is usually referred to as a 2.5-meter telescope, rather than 2.7 meters, because the optical design requires that only about 90% of the mirror’s reflecting surface (effective aperture) can be used at any one time. Although SOFIA’s telescope is by far the largest ever to be placed in an aircraft, compared to normal ground-based research observatories it is only medium-sized.
Although SOFIA’s telescope is only considered "medium-sized" compared to normal ground-based research observatories, by placing it on an aircraft, it is the largest telescope that can observe the Mid and Far-Infrared that is otherwise inaccessible from the ground.
The telescope's primary mirror blank was cut from a blank of Zerodur (TM) developed by Schott Glaswerke in Mainz, Germany.
SOFIA’s telescope was built in Germany by MAN Technologie AG and Kayser-Threde GmbH.

The telescope and instruments provide imaging and spectroscopic capabilities in the 0.3-1600 µm wavelength range, making SOFIA one of the premier infrared/sub-millimeter astronomical facilities. The telescope is located in an open cavity in the rear section of the aircraft, with a view out of the port side. Observations can be done at elevations between +20 and +60 degrees. The telescope is inertially stabilized and the pointing accuracy is about 0.5 arcseconds. The seeing is expected to be diffraction limited at all wavelengths longward of about 15 µm. There will be about 8 hours of observing time on each flight, and at full operations capability there will be three flights per week. SOFIA is expected to have a lifetime of 20 years.

Scientific goals
SOFIA studies many different kinds of astronomical objects and phenomena, but some of the most interesting are:

  •     Star birth and death
  •     Formation of new solar systems
  •     Identification of complex molecules in space
  •     Planets, comets and asteroids in our solar system
  •     Nebulae and dust in galaxies (or, Ecosystems of galaxies)
  •     Black holes at the center of galaxies


  • EXES (Echelon-Cross-Echelle Spectrograph), 4.5 - 28.3 μm
  • FIFI-LS (Field Imaging Far-Infrared Line Spectrometer), 51 - 120 μm & 115 - 203μm
  • FORCAST (Faint Object InfraRed CAmera for the SOFIA Telescope), 5 - 40 μm
  • FPI+ (Focal Plane Imager), 360 - 1100 nm
  • GREAT (German Receiver for Astronomy at Terahertz Frequencies), 0.49 - 4.747 THz
  • HAWC+ (High-resolution Airborne Wideband Camera), 50 - 240 μm

Supplementary Instruments:

SOFIA Instruments:

SOFIA Grants:

The DLR Space Agency (Raumfahrtagentur im DLR – DLR RFA) supports the use of selected satellite and airborne missions and their data reduction with financial resources from the Federal Ministry of Economic Affairs and Energy (Bundesministerium für Wirtschaft und Energie – BMWi). SOFIA is one of these selected observatories. The next deadline for submitting grant applications is expected to be January 2022 for a start in mid 2022. The DLR website will be updated accordingly. All applications will be evaluated by an external review committee.

Important Information:

  • Grants can be requested after the observing proposal has been accepted, but funding can start only after the data have been acquired.
  • The acceptance of the observing proposal does not guarantee award of the grant.
  • The grants are applied for by the host institute, not by the scientists themselves.
  • The host institute must be German.
  • Grants to co-authors of SOFIA proposals are also possible, but priority will be given to the principal investigator.
  • The grants cover salary and travel and can run up to three years.
  • Detailed time plan and budget must be provided.

 Information from the previous grant round can be found on the DLR website.

DLR website

The German Aerospace Center (DLR) supports postgraduate students  to present their work based on SOFIA observations  at a conference of their choice. Through this program, young scientists are helping DLR in achieving its goal to establish SOFIA as a renowned asset for the astronomical community. In return, they are given the opportunity to present their original research to an international audience, and are provided with networking opportunities that may prove invaluable in their future career.

To apply:

Additional Requirements & Information:

  • The data come either from the student’s SOFIA observations or from the SOFIA archive (link to archive
  • The subsidy is intended for conferences throughout the graduate studies up until 6 months after the thesis defense.
  • The conference can be selected by the student, but the selection must be approved by the supervisor.
  • The contribution to the conference can be either an oral or a poster presentation. The former is preferred.
  • The material intended for the conference contribution shall be already in preparation for peer review journals, or already accepted or published.
  • The student shall be the first author of this publication.
  • Only students affiliated with German universities or research institutes are eligible.
  • The subsidy covers the travel costs, conference fee, and accommodation up to 1500 Euro per student.
  • The reimbursement will occur after conference attendance.
  • The number of selected students depends on available funds and may change from year to year.
  • Applications are considered throughout the year.
  • The application process will take approximately 3 months from date of submission.

Application Form

Acknowledgement in SOFIA publications

in German:
„SOFIA, das Stratosphären Observatorium für Infrarot Astronomie, ist ein Gemeinschaftsprojekt der Deutschen Raumfahrtagentur im Deutschen Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt e.V. (DLR FKZ 50OK2002) und der National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). Es wird auf Veranlassung der Deutschen Raumfahrtagentur mit Mitteln des Bundesministeriums für Wirtschaft und Klimaschutz (BMWK) aufgrund eines Beschlusses des Deutschen Bundestages und mit Mitteln des Landes Baden-Württemberg und der Universität Stuttgart durchgeführt“.

in English:
„SOFIA, the Stratospheric Observatory For Infrared Astronomy, is a joint project of the Deutsche Raumfahrtagentur im Deutschen Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt e.V. (German Space Agency at DLR, grant: FKZ 50OK2002) and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). It is funded on behalf of the German Space Agency at DLR by the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Climate Action (BMWK) based on legislation by the German Parliament, the state of Baden-Württemberg and the University of Stuttgart. Scientific operation for Germany is coordinated by the Deutsches SOFIA Institut (DSI) at the University of Stuttgart.“

To the top of the page