Planck is in Liège!
At the end of 2008, or perhaps early in 2009, the European space program will launch Herschel and Planck, two satellites designed to make scientific observations, into space with the help of powerful Ariane 5 rockets. Their mission is to probe the mysteries of the universe, such as the formation of galaxies, and to gather new information bearing on the origin and expansion of the universe by investigating the traces left by the initial explosion known as the Big Bang. In conducting these tests in a simulated outer space (vacuum and ultra-low temperature) environment, the CSL (Liège Space Center) will be playing a key role in the success of both satellite launch missions.
A technological “first”
Financed by the Member States of the ESA (European Space Agency), Herschel (3.3 ton payload at launch) and Planck (1.8 tons) were built on the same platform by cooperating European industries, under the direction of the company Thales Alenia Space. This company’s affiliate ETCA in Charleroi worked on power conditioning units for the project, and the Nivelles firm EHP (Euro Heat Pipes ; member of WSL, Wallonia Space Logistics) provided the heat conduction pipes. But the know-how of the CSL was required for the tasks of estimating and calibrating the payload for Herschel – a monolithic telescope with a diameter of 3.5 meters – in the vertical space environment simulator FOCAL 6.5 (**). The three instruments in the focal plane of the satellite were also been tested for their abilty to withstand vibration under cryogenic conditions by the CSL, by means of a unique installation designed by Liège technicians. Now it is Planck’s turn to undergo testing in the horizontal simulator FOCAL 5 : the object of this series of tests, the last before the module is transferred to the Guiana Space Center (CSG) at Kourou, is to verify that the instrumentation for the 1.5 meter telescope functions perfectly under the ultra-cold conditions it will encounter in outer space.
These are two great names from the European scientific pantheon: the
astronomer William Herschel (1738-1822) discovered infrared radiation
and sketched out the shape of our Galaxy; the name of physicist Max
Planck (1858-1947) is commemorated in Planck’s constant, a number which
lies at the basis of quantum mechanics.