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|Organization||European Space Agency (ESA)
|Major contractors||Thales Alenia Space|
|Launch date||2009:05:14, 13:12:02 UTC|
|Launched from||Guiana Space Centre
|Launch vehicle||Ariane 5 ECA|
|Mission length||planned: 3 years
elapsed: 3 years, 1 month and 28 days
|Mass||3,300 kg (7,300 lb)|
|Type of orbit||Lissajous orbit|
|Orbit height||1,500,000 km (930,000 mi)|
|Orbit period||1 year|
|Orbit velocity||7,500 m/s (27,000 km/h)|
|Location||Lagrangian point L2|
|Wavelength||60-670 µm (far-infrared)|
|Diameter||3,500 mm (140 in), f/0.5 (Primary Mirror)|
|Collecting area||9.6 m2 (103 sq ft)|
|Focal length||28.5 m (94 ft), f/8.7|
|HIFI||Heterodyne Instrument for the Far Infrared|
|PACS||Photodetector Array Camera and Spectrometer|
|SPIRE||Spectral and Photometric Imaging Receiver|
The Herschel Space Observatory is a European Space Agency space observatory sensitive to the far infrared and submillimetre wavebands. It is the largest infrared space telescope ever launched, carrying a single mirror of 3.5 metres (11.5 ft) in diameter.
The observatory was carried into orbit in May 2009, reaching the second Lagrangian point (L2) of the Earth-Sun system, 1,500,000 kilometres (930,000 mi) from the Earth, about two months later. Herschel is named after Sir William Herschel, the discoverer of the infrared spectrum and planet Uranus, and his sister and collaborator Caroline.
The Herschel Observatory is capable of seeing the coldest and dustiest objects in space; for example, cool cocoons where stars form and dusty galaxies just starting to bulk up with new stars. The observatory will sift through star-forming clouds—the "slow cookers" of star ingredients—to trace the path by which potentially life-forming molecules, such as water, form. The United States through NASA is participating in the ESA-built and -operated observatory. It is the fourth 'cornerstone' mission in the ESA science program, along with Rosetta, Planck, and the Gaia mission.
In 1982 the Far Infrared and Sub-millimetre Telescope (FIRST) was proposed to ESA. The ESA long-term policy-plan "Horizon 2000", produced in 1984, called for a "High Throughput Heterodyne Spectroscopy mission" as one of its cornerstone missions. In 1986, FIRST was adopted as this cornerstone mission. It was selected for implementation in 1993, following an industrial study in 1992-1993. The mission concept was redesigned from Earth-orbit to the Lagrangian point L2, in light of experience gained from the Infrared Space Observatory. In 2000, FIRST was renamed Herschel. After being put out to tender in 2000, industrial activities began in 2001. Herschel was launched in 2009.
Herschel will specialise in collecting light from objects in our Solar System as well as the Milky Way and even extragalactic objects billions of light-years away, such as newborn galaxies, and is charged with four primary areas of investigation:
The mission involves the first space observatory to cover the full far infrared and submillimetre waveband. At 3.5 meters wide, its telescope incorporates the largest mirror (made not from glass but from sintered silicon carbide) ever deployed in space. The light is focused onto three instruments with detectors kept at temperatures below 2 K (−271 °C). The instruments are cooled with liquid helium, boiling away in a near vacuum at a temperature of approximately 1.4 K (−272 °C). The 2,000-litre supply of helium on board the spacecraft will limit its operational lifetime; nonetheless, it is expected to be operational for at least 3 years.
Herschel carries three detectors:
NASA developed and built the mixers, local oscillator chains and power amplifiers for this instrument.
Structurally, the Herschel and Planck SVM's are very similar. Both SVM's are of octagonal shape and for both, each panel is dedicated to accommodate a designated set of warm units, while taking into account the dissipation requirements of the different warm units, of the instruments as well as the spacecraft.
Furthermore, on both spacecraft a common design for the avionics, the attitude control and measurement system (ACMS) and the command and data management system (CDMS), and power subsystem and the tracking, telemetry and command subsystem (TT&C) has been achieved.
All spacecraft units on the SVM are redundant.
On each spacecraft, the power subsystem consists of the solar array, employing triple-junction solar cells, a battery and the power control unit (PCU). It is designed to interface with the 30 sections of each solar array, provide a regulated 28 V bus, distribute this power via protected outputs and to handle the battery charging and discharging.
For Herschel, the solar array is fixed on the bottom part of the baffle designed to protect the cryostat from the sun. The three-axis attitude control system maintains this baffle in direction of the sun. The top part of this baffle is covered with optical solar reflector (OSR) mirrors reflecting 98% of the sun energy, avoiding heating of the cryostat.
This function is performed by the attitude control computer (ACC) which is the platform for the ACMS. It is designed to fulfil the pointing and slewing requirements of the Herschel and Planck payload.
The Herschel spacecraft is three-axis stabilized, the absolute pointing error needs to be less than 3.7 arc sec.
The main sensor of the line of sight in both spacecraft is the star tracker.
The spacecraft, built in the Cannes Mandelieu Space Center, under Thales Alenia Space Contractorship, was successfully launched from the Guiana Space Centre in French Guiana at 13:12:02 UTC on 14 May 2009, aboard an Ariane 5 rocket, along with the Planck spacecraft, and placed on a very elliptical orbit (perigee: 270.0 km (intended 270.0±4.5), apogee: 1,197,080 km (intended 1,193,622±151,800), inclination 5.99 deg (intended 6.00±0.06)), on its way towards the second Lagrangian point.
On June 14, 2009, ESA successfully sent the command for the cryocover to open which will allow the PACS system to see the sky and transmit images in a few weeks. The lid had to remain closed until the telescope was well into space to prevent contamination. Herschel was reported to have completed 90% of the distance to its orbit 1.5 million km away from Earth.
In mid-July 2009, approximately sixty days after launch, it entered a Lissajous orbit of 800,000 km average radius around the second Lagrangian point (L2) of the Earth-Sun system, 1.5 million kilometres from the Earth.
On 21 July 2009, Herschel commissioning was declared successful, allowing the start of the operational phase. A formal handover of the overall responsibility of Herschel was declared from the programme manager Thomas Passvogel to the mission manager Johannes Riedinger.
Herschel was instrumental in the discovery of an unknown and unexpected step in the star forming process. The initial confirmation and later verification via help from ground based telescopes of a vast hole of empty space, previously believed to be a dark nebula, in the area of NGC 1999 shed new light in the way newly forming star regions discard the material which surround them.
In July 2010 a special issue of Astronomy and Astrophysics was published with 152 papers on initial results from the observatory.
A second special issue of Astronomy and Astrophysics was published in October 2010 concerning the sole HIFI instrument, due its technical failure which took it down over 6 months between August 2009 and February 2010.
It was reported on August 1, 2011, that molecular oxygen had been definitively confirmed in space with the Herschel Space Telescope, the second time scientists have found the molecule in space. It had been previously reported by the Odin team.
An October 2011 report published in Nature states that Herschel's measurements of deuterium levels in the comet Hartley 2 suggests that much of Earth's water could have initially come from cometary impacts.
On October 20, 2011, it was reported that oceans-worth of cold water vapor had been discovered in the accretion disc of a young star. Unlike warm water vapor, previously detected near forming stars, cold water vapor would be capable of forming comets which then could bring water to inner planets, as is theorized for the origin of water on Earth.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to: Herschel (space telescope)|