Herschel and Planck lift off with Ariane
ESA's far infrared space telescope Herschel and cosmic background mapper Planck got off to a successful start this afternoon with the dual launch on an Ariane 5 rocket from Europe's Spaceport in French Guiana.
Herschel, equipped with the largest mirror ever launched into space, will observe a mostly uncharted part of the electromagnetic spectrum so as to study the birth of stars and galaxies as well as dust clouds and planet-forming discs around stars. In addition, it will be the most effective tool ever devised to look for the presence of water in remote parts of the Universe.
Planck is designed to map tiny irregularities in fossil radiation left over from the very first light in the Universe, emitted shortly after the Big Bang. Planck will have enough sensitivity to reach the experimental limits of what can be observed, thus peering into the early Universe and studying its constituents such as the elusive dark matter and dark energy that continue to be a puzzle to the science community worldwide.
Both of these highly sophisticated spacecraft were lofted into space atop an Ariane 5 ECA vehicle from Europe's spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana, at 13:12 UTC (15:12 CEST) today. Almost 26 minutes later, and about two minutes from each other, they were released separately on an escape trajectory toward a virtual point in space, called L2, some 1.5 million kilometres from Earth in the opposite direction to the Sun.
Herschel and Planck are currently on a highly elongated orbit that will eventually bring them to an average distance of about 1.5 million km from the Earth. Since the acquisition of the first radio signals from the two satellites at 13:49 UTC (15:49 CEST) today, they have now come under the control of ESA’s European Space Operations Centre (ESOC) in Darmstadt, Germany. Both appear to be in nominal condition on their way towards their final orbit around L2. Their first trajectory correction manoeuvres are scheduled for tomorrow.