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Launch of telescopes to view the Big Bang

The European Space Agency has awarded its largest ever contract to build two space telescopes. The telescopes, Herschel and Planck, will be launched in 2007, and are designed to give an unprecedented view of the birth of the universe. Herschel, named after the British astrono...

The European Space Agency has awarded its largest ever contract to build two space telescopes. The telescopes, Herschel and Planck, will be launched in 2007, and are designed to give an unprecedented view of the birth of the universe. Herschel, named after the British astronomer who discovered infra-red light, will be the first space telescope covering the full far-infrared waveband. This will provide information about how the first stars and galaxies formed and evolved. Planck, named after the Nobel winning German physicist, will analyse cosmic microwave background radiation - the remains of the first radiation to fill the universe and a window on the beginnings of our universe. The consortium awarded the contract is headed by prime contractor, Alcatel Space of France, along with Astrium GmbH of Germany and Alenia Spazio of Italy. They will design, manufacture and launch the satellites containing the telescopes. The satellites will be launched together into a high orbit by an Ariane 5 launcher from Kourou (French Guyana). Once launched, the delivery vehicle will split and the two satellites will take up separate orbits around a point some 1.5 million km away from Earth. The consortium's responsibility extends to making sure the satellites are fully operational, and successfully sending data back to Earth. The satellites present novel technological challenges, not least is the need to keep some components of the telescopes at a temperature close to absolute zero.