Luke Keller

Luke Keller

Dana Professor, Department of Physics and Astronomy

Specialty:Astrophysics, airborne astronomy, spectroscopy, optical instrumentation, natural science general education
Phone:(607) 274-3966
Office:264 Ctr for Natural Sciences
Ithaca, NY 14850


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Preparing for astronomy with NASA's newest airborne observatory

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Posted by Luke Keller at 12:25AM   |  Add a comment
The FORCAST camera (left) and supporting electronics and computers assembled in the DAOF lab.

FORCAST is now at the Dryden Aircraft Operations Facility (DAOF). We spent last week making small final adjustments and additions to the instrument, preparing for it's move to the lab at DAOF. By the end of the week all of our equipment was loaded into eight large crates. The FORCAST cryostat--containing the camera optics, filter changing mechanisms, and infrared detector arrays--has its own crate that George designed with two shock-absorbing layers. How do you send a multi-million dollar camera system across the continent? FedEx! FORCAST had its very own truck dedicated to the move, which took two days. The shipment arrived in Palmdale on Monday, February 8. George, Justin, and Chuck flew out to begin unpacking the boxes on Monday afternoon. I arrived on Tuesday afternoon to help assemble the instrument and prepare for cooling the inner optical and electronic systems. I worked with George and Chuck to check for vacuum leaks in the cryostat, then we let the vacuum pump work for a few hours.

Today we are cooling the cryostat to 77 K (-321 F, -196 C) using liquid nitrogen. After "soaking" in liquid nitrogen for 24 hours, we'll cool the system with liquid helium to 4 K (-453 F, -269 C). By Friday, the instrument will be fully assembled, running at its operating temperature (4 K), and ready for testing.


DAOF is an exciting place to work. The lab dedicated to FORCAST is located in the DAOF Site 9 hangar facility and SOFIA is parked about fifty feet away. Here's the view from our door; that's the nose of the 747 staring at us! It's an awesome sight. Very exciting to finally be here with FORCAST. Everything is working well and the USRA and NASA folks have been very welcoming and helpful. At the end of the day we watched as the maintenance crew pushed SOFIA out onto the tarmac for fueling. It will take off tomorrow morning for a test flight.


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