On May 14, 2009, the two space probes are scheduled to be launched inside an Ariane 5 ECA heavy-lift rocket from the Guiana Space Center in French Guiana. The European Space Agency, or ESA, leads both missions with significant participation from NASA.
After launch, Planck and Herschel will separate from the rocket and follow different trajectories to the second Lagrangian point (L2) of our solar system, a point in space 930,000 miles (1.5 million kilometers) from Earth.
At this point, the gravitational effects of the Sun and the Earth/Moon will not affect both probes. That is, at this point the combined gravitational force from the Sun and Earth/Moon are negated.
The probes will appear to be stationary with respect to both the Sun and Earth. And, they will move in orbits parallel to the Earth around the Sun. The L2 orbit is outside of Earth’s orbit, so they will be 930,000 miles further from the Sun than Earth, which is about 93 million miles from the Sun.
Ulf Israelsson, NASA project manager for both missions, states, "The missions are quite different, but they'll hitch a ride to space together. Launch processing is moving along smoothly. Both missions' instruments have completed their final checkouts, and the spacecrafts' thruster tanks have been fueled." [NASA: “Herschel and Planck Missions to Study Cosmos Share Ride to Space”]
The mission for the Herschel Space Observatory, brought to you by the European Space Agency (ESA) but with international cooperation, will study the formation of the Universe in the far-infrared and sub-millimeter portions (between 55 and 672 micrometers) of the electromagnetic spectrum.
Page two continues with more information on the Herschel mission.
Originally called Far InfraRed and Submillimetre Telescope (FIRST), the probe was renamed for English astronomer William Herschel, who discovered that infrared radiation exists along with visible radiation (or visible light).
The Herschel Telescope will observe the Universe when it was first forming stars and galaxies.
The Herschel Science Centre states that Herschel “… has the potential of elucidating structure formation in the universe, resolving the far infrared cosmic background, revealing cosmologically evolving AGN [active galactic nucleus]/starburst symbiosis and galaxy evolution at the epochs when most stars in the universe were formed, unveiling the physics and chemistry of the interstellar medium and its molecular clouds, the wombs of the stars, and unravelling the mechanisms governing the formation of and evolution of stars and their planetary systems, including our own solar system putting it into context.” [http://herschel.esac.esa.int/]
In summary, “Herschel will open a new window to study how the universe has evolved to become the universe we see today, and how our star the sun, our planet the earth, and we ourselves fit in.”
Paul Goldsmith, NASA project scientist for Herschel, states, "We haven't had ready access to the wavelengths between infrared and microwaves before, in part because Earth's atmosphere blocks them from reaching the ground. Because our views were so limited before, we can expect a vast range of serendipitous discoveries, from new molecules in interstellar space to new types of objects." [NASA]
Upon its launch. Herschel will become the largest space observatory to ever be sent into space. It is expected to function for about 3.5 years, primarily because one of its instruments must be cooled to 0.3 Kelvin with liquid helium—which is expected to last for that amount of time.
Page three continues with the Planck mission.
It was previously called COBRAS/SAMBA for: COsmic Background Radiation Anisotropy Satellite and SAellite for Measurement of Background Anisotropies.
The fifteen-month-plus mission will explore the glow of radiation that was created by the Big Bang, the theorized beginning of our Universe.
This glow of radiation is called the cosmic microwave background (CMB), which is the light (electromagnetic radiation) from the particles that came about when the Big Bang occurred and then evolved over 13.7 billion years to produce the Universe we know today.
Charles Lawrence, NASA project scientist for Planck, states, “The cosmic microwave background shows us the universe directly at age 400,000 years, not the movie, not the historical novel, but the original photons. Planck will give us the clearest view ever of this baby universe, showing us the results of physical processes in the first brief moments after the Big Bang, and the starting point for the formation of stars and galaxies." [NASA]
The Planck probe will record temperature changes in the CMB radiation over a large range of radio and microwave wavelengths. Its very precise instruments will be able to mark changes of temperature as tiny as one millionth of a Kelvin.
The Planck probe, which was named after German physicist Max Planck, the founder of quantum theory, will have onboard a 1.5-meter telescope and two instruments. One instrument, the High Frequency Instrument (HFI), consists of 52 bolometers, which will record m icrowaves between the frequencies of 100 and 857 gigahertz (GHz).
Page four concludes.
Francois Bouchet, a French scientist for the Planck mission, states, “Bolometers are the new kid on the block in space." [Science News: “Planck by Planck” (April 11, 2009, page 16]
Consequently, the Planck mission will be able to observe the result of the Big Bank ten times more precise than ever before attempted.
NASA states, “Herschel and Planck are both ESA missions with important participation from NASA. NASA's Herschel Project Office and Planck Project Office are both based at JPL [Jet Propulsion Laboratory]. A consortium of European-led institutes provided science instruments for Herschel."
"JPL contributed mission-enabling technology for two of Herschel's three science instruments and both of Planck's science instruments. The NASA Herschel Science Center, part of the Infrared Processing and Analysis Center at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, supports the U.S. astronomical community. NASA, U.S. and European Planck scientists will work together to analyze the Planck data."
If these two missions are successful, they will help astronomers to unravel what happened when the Universe first came into existence—the first millionth of a second after the Big Bang.
Astronomers may learn more about matter, dark energy, and the origin of stars and galaxy—and, ultimately why we are living here on Earth in this day and time.
To see how the Herschel and Planck probes will be positioned (configured) inside the payload container of the Adriane rocket, check out ESA’s website “Herschel/Planck Dual Launch Configuration.”