NASA

Improving SOFIA

Although a final resolution may not come until late this year, when Congress finally approves a fiscal year 2015 appropriations bill, it appears that NASA’s Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA) program has survived its near-death experience. While the administration’s 2015 budget request slashed SOFIA’s funding and recommended it be placed in storage should NASA be unable to find partners to pick up the airborne observatory’s tab, both the House and Senate versions of appropriations bills that fund NASA include full or nearly full funding for SOFIA.

However, the agency believes there’s still ways to improve the operations of the observatory, which costs NASA more than $80 million in fiscal year 2014. Last month, the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) at NASA issued a report on SOFIA, making a number of recommendations on steps NASA could take to improve the scientific output of the observatory and streamline its operations. That includes a plan for technology upgrades to SOFIA and improving the delivery of data to researchers after their flights. The OIG report also recommended changes to the contract NASA has with the Universities Space Research Association (USRA) for SOFIA operations, including a shift from a cost-plus to a fixed-price contract after the current contract ends in 2016.

NASA accepted the recommendations of the OIG report, which Paul Hertz, director of NASA’s astrophysics division, confirmed in a presentation to the astrophysics subcommittee of the NASA Advisory Council’s Science Committee on Monday. In addition to the OIG report, he said, he also convened “senior members of our community” to look at future plans for SOFIA, including what to do should the program’s budget be reduced. Their findings, he said, resonated with the OIG report.

Hertz said the main funding from the OIG report is that NASA’s current metric for the effectiveness of SOFIA, the number of science flight hours, may not be the best one. NASA currently has a goal of 960 research hours per year with SOFIA. The OIG report said that 960-hour calculation, done in the mid-1990s, hasn’t been updated to reflect changes in flight operations, including the ability to do more more science per flight and a higher reliability of the aircraft and instruments. “[I]t appears the Program is capable of more than 960 research flight hours per year,” the report concluded, recommending that the hours requirement be balanced “with quality of science and other competing priorities – such as technology upgrades, outreach activities, and researcher funding.”

Hertz said NASA concurred, and would look at trades between flight hours and supporting instrument development. He added that SOFIA, which entered its formal operational phase earlier this summer, would be subject to a senior review alongside other astrophysics missions “at an appropriate time.”

38 comments to Improving SOFIA

  • Most unfortunate. Far too many government programs survive a near death experience. NASA is trying to drive while trailing behind far too many beer cans on strings. NASA resources should be focused on exploration and SLS/Orion.

  • pennypicher

    obviously you mean “or” — as nasa can either explore or have SLS, but not both

    • Zero out ISS and NASA can have both. ISS among other things is lost opportunity for a generation.

      • Jim Nobles

        Zero out ISS and NASA can have both. ISS among other things is lost opportunity for a generation.

        Okay, let’s say that, for whatever reason, the budget for ISS is killed during the next session. What do you think would then be the fate of the American human space program?

        • A hiatus, like in the 70’s while the Space Shuttle was being developed. Unfortunately that cannot be helped because of the somewhat panicky way the shuttle program was ended, and the sabotage that New Space did on the long range program. Let’s face it. We shut down the Shuttle program just as we were flying it to perfection.

          • common sense

            Ah my friend…

            Here read:

            http://spaceksc.blogspot.com/2010/03/why-bush-cancelled-space-shuttle.html

            “The Shuttle’s chief purpose over the next several years will be to help finish assembly of the International Space Station. In 2010, the Space Shuttle — after nearly 30 years of duty — will be retired from service.

            President George W. Bush January 14, 2004

            And this happened after Columbia, not exactly a demonstration how safe the whole architecture was, was it?

            I am longing for the day you can read. On the other hand it so much more fun like this.

            Happy weekend.

            • amightywind

              George Bush had a replacement under development, Project Constellation, Apollo on Steroids. When Obama and his bed wetters cancelled Constellation and allowed the cancellation of the shuttle program to proceed, they created the lost decade we suffer under now. Obama was free to extend the shuttle program.

              • vulture4

                “Obama was free to extend the shuttle program.”

                You might wish to read the commentary of Wayne Hale on this. He said no. In 2008.

      • Amightywind: Zero out ISS and NASA can have both. ISS among other things is lost opportunity for a generation.

        Without the ISS there is no large immediate market for human-rated launch vehicles and spacecraft. Without a market for rockets and spacecraft, there is no reason to develop cheaper ones. W/o cheaper spaceflight, we’re going nowhere, especially in today’s economic environment and anti-government melieu (at least outside of the Republican south). All of this may change tomorrow, if and when Mr. Bigelow launches something operational, but it hasn’t changed yet. Today’s American government cannot, and almost certainly will not, afford SLS / Orion over the long term.

        You, Sir, are living the post-WWII past, when the US had near-infinite resources and there were no alternative to NASA and the Air Force. Neither of those is true today. Any hope for a lunar base, Mars missions, or much of anything else, is dependent on the likes of SpaceX and Bigelow, possibly with NASA as a customer. Even in the unlikely event it succeeds, the SLS especially, has no future because, simply, there are far cheaper alternatives that can do the job already flying (Delta-IV) or nearing flight (SpaceX Heavy).

        — Donald

  • vulture4

    $80M is simply more than Sophia is or ever will be worth. The program should be dropped and the money should go into space-based sensors.

    • Hiram

      The predecessor to SOFIA, the Kuiper Airborne Observatory, had a $30M/yr budget two decades ago. Inflation and fuel price increases have taken their toll on SOFIA. But SMD has, I believe, mandated a number of operational enhancements to SOFIA comapred to KAO that are quite costly (e.g. facility instruments). Also, with regard to human-carrying vehicles, Challenger and Columbia have since imposed many many safety requirements that are very costly. Safety-wise, it’s a new world out there. A new focal plane instrument on KAO used to require a brief safety inspection. “Thumbs up, good to go.” Now, that safety validation involves lots of man-hours and volumes of paper.

      Again, the advantage of SOFIA versus space sensors is that they are accessible in real-time. State-of-art, cutting edge instrumentation needs that hands-on accessibility, and technology development is strongly encouraged by that accessibility. That being said, there are certainly disadvantages of an airborne platform as well, compared to a space platform.

      • common sense

        SOFIA could be run for a lot less money but then again where is the money going to come from for Armstrong and all the others supporting it?

        Let’s not forget they had an RFI recently where they quoted $1M for 1 night!!!! 1 like in “one” night.

        http://www.nasa.gov/press/2014/april/nasa-begins-search-for-potential-sofia-partners/#.U-5VTVa99Lo

        “Costs are estimated at approximately $1 million per night for a dedicated mission.”

        What mission? What kind of mission? Under what requirements? Doing what? $1M ~ 4 FTE (yearly full time employee) for 1 flight!!!!

        • Hiram

          That’s a simplistic way of looking at it.

          You have on the order of 80-100 flights per year for $80M, but that $80M includes the costs for the high tech instrument development and maintenance of a very complex telescope. That includes development, construction and testing. I’m not sure it could be done for “a lot less money”. Certainly the project will be challenged to do it for less, and if the less-important requirements are relaxed, it may well succeed in doing that.

          If you don’t know what SOFIA does, then please don’t make pronouncements about how much it should cost to do it.

          The cost is opportunity cost, not cost per unit time. Opportunity is measured by a lot more than the number of flights.

          The mission of SOFIA is simple. It is looking at the cosmos at wavelengths that can’t be seen from the ground with an aperture that allows for high spatial resolution, using complex, high performance and in some cases high power instruments that would never fit on a satellite or balloon. The mission includes cutting edge technology development that could never be serviced on a satellite.

          • common sense

            Then I am sorry but you have no idea how the private sector operates. Yes $1M per night for the government program amounts to the quotes $80M. BUT a private entity does not exist to support the government!!! Which is precisely what this RFI suggested.

            A private customer paying for SOFIA would look to extract some profit eventually and paying for each nut and bolt of the government management will not do. Suffice to see where we stand on that idea moving forward.

            I know what SOFIA does and instead of attacking me you better be looking inward as to why they are miserably failing. You are always on the attack for Constellation/SLS yet have some leniency for things like SOFIA and JWST. And however much I would rather have SOFIA and JWST I do not condone absurdly high costs whether they serve science the community or anything.

            Opportunity cost? Oh I am sure this will fly well with the industry. Opportunity to what? To do what? What is the befit to a private entity to pay for SOFIA time at full government program cost?

            If thou believe the private sector will in any way support a government program by *paying* the government then I think you can keep dreaming for years to come.

            It appears to me that you would rather see SOFIA go away than be a little creative as to what to do to keep it going. But hey it came close this year. Let’s see next year.

            Opportunity…

            • Hiram

              “Then I am sorry but you have no idea how the private sector operates. ”

              I’m not sure what the private sector has to do with this, nor what this has to do with being able to “fly well for industry”. I didn’t bring it up. You did. You were complaining that you didn’t know the mission of SOFIA, yet you were certain the project could be run for less money.

              A private customer simply wouldn’t pay for SOFIA, nor for HST, nor for Curiosity. That’s why the federal government does these things. Because that kind of success is in the long term interest of the nation, and doesn’t translate directly to profit.

              “It appears to me that you would rather see SOFIA go away than be a little creative as to what to do to keep it going.”

              That’s a pretty bizarre interpretation of what I said. Can you elaborate? Were you responding to my post, or to another one?

              • common sense

                No I did not know what mission they are referring to in the RFI indeed since they do not show it nor explain it nor nothing

                http://www.nasa.gov/press/2014/april/nasa-begins-search-for-potential-sofia-partners/#.U-62bVa99Lo

                https://www.fbo.gov/index?s=opportunity&mode=form&id=a2a6661dd4734e98bad5ae80eba50350&tab=core&_cview=0

                What kind of partners is NASA seeking to save SOFIA then? Who will pay $1M per night to run NASA’s science program?

                Please enlighten me.

                “The Presidents fiscal year 2015 Budget Request to Congress calls for SOFIA to be placed in storage in fiscal year 2015 unless partners can be found to replace the U.S. contribution to the project.”

                What is the result of this RFI? Anyone showed any interest? Do you expect the DOE will join? Another Agency? A University maybe?

                At this kind of cost this only is a pipe dream.

                An by the way even if I am another government agency I will never ever pay for all that a mission for SOFIA costs if I have to pay the man power to runs NASA mission. How realistic is that?

                So if I get it wrong please again enlighten me. What partners are we talking about? Please give me an example so that I can tell that running a 747 for a night (how many hours are a night btw?) with whatever instruments onboard would cost me upward of $1M? What mission are we talking about?

                Darn.

      • SOFIA is wonderful scientifically (though space based sensors and the infrastructure to cheaply change them out with, say, a Dragon, would be more wonderful; note that the money spent on SOFIA would come pretty close to paying for that and those space based sensors would be opperational 24/7), but SOFIA is irrelevant if your goal is space industrialization or colonization. It is $80 million / year that would could, and should, spend on other things.

        — Donald

    • vulture4 and I are in full agreement again!

  • Hiram

    “No I did not know what mission they are referring to in the RFI indeed since they do not show it nor explain it nor nothing

    Please enlighten me.”

    You’re trying to figure out what SMD would like to see industry buy? Gee, just look at the RFI that USRA originally bid on. That’s what SOFIA is created to do.

    But you said that SOFIA could do that much cheaper, without knowing what it was that it had to do.

    But I’m still confused. We’re largely in agreement that there is no way that industry would step up to the plate on this. As I said, THAT’S WHY A FEDERAL GOVERNMENT WAS DOING IT in the first place. That’s what I said.

    So yes, one can wonder how delusional SMD is to believe there might be a chance of getting industry support. Let me give you a clue. OMB told NASA it couldn’t have SOFIA. NASA has no choice by to offer a supremely smelly proposition to industry, a real tooth-fairy proposition, and you can bet that NASA is holding it’s nose as it does so.

    • common sense

      I am not going in the I-said-you-said on this.

      However you are saying that the “FEDERAL GOVERNMENT” (you should not yell btw it is bad for your health and plain unpleasant) exists to support such expensive programs as SOFIA yet you deny that very notion to SLS/MPCV. Biased are we not? Others are making the same argument for those programs.

      Now the Federal Government role definitely lies – as in many other things – to take risks and develop technologies that otherwise the industry would not be able to and to develop R&D whose pay-offs may be distant, etc.

      However that does not excuse the absurdly high cost of any mission that can mostly be identified a job program.

      SOFIA could do things much cheaper indeed if they were to leverage industry capabilities. Also it would make far more sense that they offer possible partners the availability of a system for which they don’t have to buy the government program but let the partner decide what they need and want to pay for. I am pretty sure some of those nice capabilities might be used outside of the actual NASA program. They might want to offer the ability to use capabilities and/or develop and/or install other capabilities etc. They were not doing any of that through the RFI.

      And no I am not trying to figure out what SMD would like the industry to buy. Your vision is NASA-centric. I am telling you NASA should ask the industry what capabilities are of interest to them.

      Anyway it seems very difficult to understand while it is quite simple. Maybe you should just remove your NASA glasses and put on real glasses to see what is happening outside of NASA and see if there is a fit. Bet it SMD, HEOMD or whatever-MD.

      • Hiram

        “I am telling you NASA should ask the industry what capabilities are of interest to them.”

        For an up-looking infrared telescope with a suite of instruments that are designed for astronomical questions? Let’s not be naive and think that industry has any interest in that. Industry has no interest in running Curiosity on Mars, nor does it have much interest in operating HST. Whyever do you think that, suddenly, in the history of space astronomy, industry all of a sudden wants to use astronomical facilities?

        “SOFIA could do things much cheaper indeed if they were to leverage industry capabilities.” “I am pretty sure some of those nice capabilities might be used outside of the actual NASA program.”

        Everyone would love to hear suggestions about this. You seem to be convinced that there are options to take advantage of these capabilities. What are they? If you want to make statements like this, please back them up. Your “real glasses” must be powerful ones.

        Please understand that the project was originally an industry-based one. USRA, L-3/Raytheon, and United Airlines were going to run SOFIA lock stock and barrel on contract to NASA. That was a new and innovative way to run a NASA funded project. Five years ago, that management construct was declared a failure by NASA, and now just science management is being done by USRA.

        “However that does not excuse the absurdly high cost of any mission that can mostly be identified a job program.”

        That’s a very curious statement. In what way do you identify SOFIA as a “jobs program”? Unlike other NASA “jobs programs”, like SLS, SOFIA has a very specific project mission and well-understood and funded goals. Congress played very little role in actually siting SOFIA operations. SOFIA isn’t running on pork. Sorry, but it’s simply not fair to plaster the name “jobs program” on any mission you decide is kinda expensive, and calling the cost “absurdly high”, seems to imply that there are recognizable ways of doing the job more cheaply. In fact, the cost of SOFIA isn’t “absurdly high”, considering what it is required to do. It is possible, however, that the requirements are absurdly stringent, that’s what NASA needs to think hard about.

        • common sense

          There may be (I say may) from the industry to look up at stuff. Come on. But no it does not mean it would be working. On the other hand if we don’t try then we never know. And we did not try. We only ask “partners” to pay the bill. Period. How subtle.

          “Everyone would love to hear suggestions about this”

          Sorry but this statement is just not true. Some people would definitely love. But not everyone. Unfortunately. Sorry I cannot bak them up in this forum. So you’ll take them for what they are. C’est la vie.

          “Five years ago, that management construct was declared a failure by NASA, and now just science management is being done by USRA.” I will readily admit that I do not know their arrangement then but it does not mean 5 years later that it cannot be done.

          You don’t seem to get my point. This RFI was ludicrous. It did not offer an opportunity to be creative and offer alternatives. Furthermore it is not because there was a failure with the industry that it cannot work.

          We are talking past each other it seems. I know SOFIA has a goal and so does JWST. If you listen to some inside and outside NASA so do SLS and MPCV whether you or I like it or not. Whether you or I think that it is not properly put together as a mission. It does not matter. What matters is that NASA investigate new ways to bring in partners to reduce cost, not to pay the bill.

          I think that SOFIA’s cost is sufficiently absurd that it was almost axed. Therefore the bean counters do not agree with you. My concern is that SOFIA runs at a lower cost and possibly diminished (TBD) capabilities rather than moth-balled and then purchased for 1 dollar by someone.

          We need to think about things in a different way. 5 years ago the environment at NASA was far different from today.

          Maybe the requirements are absurd. But this not a good enough answer because if this is so then you are just taking a chapter out of the CEV/MPCV/Orion book where requirements are absurd and unaffordable. Which means that those who came up with the requirements were wrong. And who could that be?

          • Hiram

            “C’est la vie.”

            At least I know what platform of experience you’re speaking from.

            “What matters is that NASA investigate new ways to bring in partners to reduce cost, not to pay the bill.”

            Reduction of cost is a matter of someone else doing bill paying. New ways to bring in partners? Still not sure what you’re talking about, and I’m still interested to hear some concrete ideas.

            “Some people would definitely love. But not everyone. Unfortunately.”

            Some people would love to get ideas about how to involve industry in SOFIA to lower costs, and some would not? What’cha smokin’?

            “Maybe the requirements are absurd. But this not a good enough answer because if this is so then you are just taking a chapter out of the CEV/MPCV/Orion book where requirements are absurd and unaffordable.”

            The original requirements for SOFIA were based on KAO operations, and what seemed demonstrably achievable then. As I said, with regard to vehicles that flew humans, things changed dramatically after Challenger, and it was not well understood the cost of those changes. It may simply be that the science that SOFIA set out to accomplish was not as affordable as it was once thought to be. That’s what I meant when I said that the requirements needed to be reviewed. CEV/MPCV/Orion have no relevance here.

            “We are talking past each other it seems.”

            No, it seems that you’re making pronouncements about how SOFIA can succeed without offering any real guidance or wisdom about how to make it happen. You’re just spouting platitudes about getting industry involved, and kissing the feet of industry. If you want to be constructive, you’re going to have to do better than that.

            • common sense

              “At least I know what platform of experience you’re speaking from.”

              Mind reader? You know my experience based on this exchange? Wow. I am impressed.

              And no I am not going to give you any idea. For one thing I don’t know who you are except for someone who is unable to have a constructive conversation and is ready to only jump at the throat to those who dare challenge their status quo. You are in effect just like any SLS/MPCV supporter except that your interest lies in SOFIA in this particular instance.

              To you there is no difference between “some people” and “everyone”. I think we have a language issue here unfortunately. So yes. There are “some people” interested but no, “not everyone” is interested. Is that difficult to understand?

              I see. Well once there was a program called the CEV and cost even though not completely understood were to be contained through the spiral approach then proposed. Someone decided it was not the right way and chose to base the technology on 60s and 70s technology and proposed Constellation and costs went through the roof as opposed to what should have happened. But I guess ” It may simply be that “the development that Constellation” set out to accomplish was not as affordable as it was once thought to be.” You are quick at spouting excuses for your “pet programs”, aren’t you?

              “No, it seems that you’re making pronouncements about how SOFIA can succeed without offering any real guidance or wisdom about how to make it happen. You’re just spouting platitudes about getting industry involved, and kissing the feet of industry. ”

              I am not making pronouncements. NASA chose to cancel SOFIA (http://www.spacepolicyonline.com/news/proposed-sofia-cancellation-rankles-congress-scientists).

              Now this is such a quantity of garbage. You really think that I will offer guidance or wisdom (!) for SOFIA here on the Internet. I already made some offer elsewhere. Platitudes about the industry involvement? People like you deserve that their program(s) be cancelled and then they will offer excuses as they usually do. No wonder why NASA is in the state it is. Pathetic.

              I don’t want to be constructive. I am telling you as a customer of SOFIA’s program that this is unaffordable and therefore it seems deserve to be killed as it stands. I am paying along with everyone else for something that I don’t want to pay unless I see changes. It is SOFIA’s role (yours?) to offer innovative ideas. Not the other way around. You should learn something about customer relationship.

              “If you want to be constructive, you’re going to have to do better than that.”

              And who do you think you are to make any such demand?

              Darn.

              • Hiram

                “For one thing I don’t know who you are except for someone who is unable to have a constructive conversation and is ready to only jump at the throat to those who dare challenge their status quo.”

                We’re done here.

              • common sense

                If only we were…

  • common sense

    “NASA has no choice by to offer a supremely smelly proposition to industry, a real tooth-fairy proposition, and you can bet that NASA is holding it’s nose as it does so.”

    NASA has a choice. That is a totally wrong statement. They have no choice when they are put their feet to the wall/fire, once it is too late.

    Creativity in science is important but it is too in business and I am afraid NASA has very little if any creativity in that.

  • vulture4

    I must admit I am confused by both of your statements. Virtually all astronomical research is funded by government agencies such as NSF and NASA, by similar tax-supported agencies in other countries, or by private philanthropies. Why would industry conduct basic astronomical research with its own resources? Aren’t the “partners” NASA is looking for simply institutions that have funding from other governments?

    • common sense

      First what I find wrong with the RFI is that it only gives a cost of $1M per night. And that’s it. So basically NASA is asking whether someone’s willing to pick up the tab.

      Then they have an “Industry Day” – to which I did not go. But they did not have a “Partner Day” or a “Government Day”. I realize that some information might have been given then. However if NASA wants the industry to spend some of their B&P or other money then NASA should in my opinion be a little more forthcoming with what they want.

      So it would have been beneficial to tell what 1 night actually is. How many hours? Flight hours? Ground hours? Maintenance? Personnel? Can the industry provide its flight crew? Instruments available onboard the aircraft? Possible changes if any to the instrument suite? etc.

      In effect, offer the industry an opportunity to taylor the aircraft and instruments to their needs. I use industry to include private philanthropies. But even other governments would benefit from this information. This being said astronomy may be a government activity but observing the skies may not, not exclusively. Is it possible that someone would like to look up for some for-profit reason? Would that someone need the whole suite of instruments? Other dedicated instruments? Would someone be able to use their own data collecting center? etc.

      Anyway I think that would have been a much better start. But it was clearly not their intention.

    • common sense

      By the way, there is nothing exceptional in figuring an estimate for anyone in the industry. Estimate a number of hours for a night near Dryden/Armstrong. Figure the cost of a B-747 for that many hours, flight, ground, maintenance, crew. You can find some of this information by searching the Internet. This gives you a result. The difference between that and $1M is what will quickly become shocking. Therefore someone has to justify said difference. And I am having a very hard time believing that it is all related to instruments operations – not “development, construction and testing” as suggested above, not like this anyway. Otherwise we may want to pay for the education and training of all involved at NASA as well…

      In any case the result might still be that no one is interested but at least you don’t ask others to pay the bill upfront.

  • vulture4

    Yes, my guess on direct cost for flight time is $5000/hr or about $50K for the whole night. For the instrument crew for one night I would guess about 100 manhours or another $10K. So my thought was that they are trying to market this to a university, institute or science support contractor with income from grants. But I agree that they are taking the full program cost and trying to recover it, not just the marginal cost of one day of observation. $1M is a lot of grant money and I can’t imagine many groups with that to spend.

  • vulture4

    I might mention that the same thing happens with other NASA facilities like wind tunnels, aircraft crash simulators, etc. that are made available to industry “at cost”. Once in awhile industry rents them but the cost is so high they sit idle most of the time. One solution is to just advertise the entire facility for long-term lease to the highest bidder, as was done with LC-39.

    • common sense

      Yes and no. I have seen an effort to actually provide the “real” cost to some organizations but I don’t know if this is true all across the orgs and centers. It will have to come to this and soon otherwise NASA may end up with a lot of nice facilities unused. Just as SOFIA may end up.

  • vulture4

    Of course if the cost is really $1M/night this suggests only 80 nights of observation per year.

    • common sense

      Which is in agreement with their planned cost for the whole program for 1 year I believe. I still don’t know how to come up with $1M per night even if I assume 1 night = 12 hours. And I am sure others have the same problem. Pretty sad I think.

      So now what?

  • Dark Blue Nine

    “‘[I]t appears the Program is capable of more than 960 research flight hours per year,’ the report concluded, recommending that the hours requirement be balanced ‘with quality of science and other competing priorities – such as technology upgrades, outreach activities, and researcher funding.'”

    This is a specious claim. Per the table in this article, SOFIA averaged less than 15 hours of observation a month over almost three years from May 2011 to January 2014:

    http://www.nature.com/news/sofia-irons-out-technical-kinks-1.14769

    At less than 15 hours a month, SOFIA achieves less than 180 hours of observation a year. That’s a far cry from the 960 hours referenced above. In fact, it’s less than 20%.

    “Hertz said NASA concurred, and would look at trades between flight hours and supporting instrument development.”

    There’s almost no hours left to trade. 15 hours of observation is less than two work nights (assuming 8-hour shifts) a month. What can Hertz do? Reduce the hours to one night a month? One night every other month? This is like the SLS launch rate (once every two to four years) on a smaller scale.

    The SOFIA project is in a death spiral. Development cost overruns cut its instrument suite in half, and years of delays made the few remaining instruments outdated and irrelevant. So to buy back the development of some modern instruments, the only place Hertz has left to go is operations. But contrary to the IG’s advice, there are almost no operations that can be cut because the operational costs have grown to the point where there are almost no operations.

    It’s the SLS death spiral on a smaller scale. Almost no payloads and almost no flights. There’s nothing left to do but to terminate the project and redirect the savings elsewhere. Given the huge size of SLS and SOFIA relative to comparable projects, that’s not a bad option. SOFIA’s annual budget in larger than the rest of the suborbital program combined. That would buy a heckuva lot of astrophysics and space physics research on other platforms.

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