Herschel mission comes to end as coolant runs out

30 April 2013
By Edd Gent
Mobile version
Share |
The ESA's Herschel mission came to an end ysterday after the observatory exhausted its supply of coolant (CREDIT: ESA)

The ESA's Herschel mission came to an end ysterday after the observatory exhausted its supply of coolant (CREDIT: ESA)

The Herschel space observatory has exhausted its supply of liquid helium coolant concluding more than three years of observations.

The European Space Agency (ESA) mission began with over 2300 litres of liquid helium, which has been slowly evaporating since the final top-up the day before Herschel's launch on May 14, 2009.

The evaporation of the liquid helium was essential to cool the observatory's instruments to close to absolute zero, allowing Herschel to make highly sensitive scientific observations of the cold Universe until yesterday.   

The confirmation that the helium is finally exhausted came yesterday afternoon at the beginning of the spacecraft's daily communication session with its ground station in Western Australia, with a clear rise in temperatures measured in all of Herschel's instruments.   
  
"Herschel has exceeded all expectations, providing us with an incredible treasure trove of data that will keep astronomers busy for many years to come," says Proffessor Alvaro Giménez, ESA's director of Science and Robotic Exploration.   
  
Herschel has made over 35,000 scientific observations, amassing more than 25,000 hours of science data from about 600 observing programmes. A further 2,000 hours of calibration observations also contribute to the dataset, which is based at ESA's European Space Astronomy Centre, near Madrid in Spain.
  
The archive is expected to provide even more discoveries than have been made during the lifetime of the Herschel mission.   
  
"Herschel's ground-breaking scientific haul is in no little part down to the excellent work done by European industry, institutions and academia in developing, building and operating the observatory and its instruments," adds Thomas Passvogel, ESA's Herschel and Planck Project Manager.

The mission resulted in a number of technological advancements applicable to future space missions and potential spin-off technologies, including the development of advanced cryogenic systems, the construction of the largest telescope mirror ever flown in space, and the utilisation of the most sensitive direct detectors for light in the far-infrared to millimetre range.

Manufacturing techniques enabling the Herschel mission have already been applied to the next generation of ESA's space missions, including Gaia.   
  
"Herschel has offered us a new view of the hitherto hidden Universe, pointing us to previously unseen processes of star birth and galaxy formation, and allowing us to trace water through the Universe from molecular clouds to newborn stars and their planet-forming discs and belts of comets," says Göran Pilbratt, ESA's Herschel Project Scientist.     
  
The telescopes 3.5m diameter mirror and extremely sensitive scientific instruments made it the most powerful infrared observatory ever launched.

The SPIRE (Spectral and Photometric Imaging Receiver) instrument, responsible for keeping all the spacecraft’s instrumentation cool, making images of the sky simultaneously in three submillimetre “colours” and measuring the spectral features of atoms and molecules, was led by the UK, with support from the UK Space Agency.

Herschel's instruments did not just produce pictures, but also carried spectrometers meaning astronomers could study the full range of wavelengths in great details allowing the identification of specific atoms and molecules in interstellar space and in distant galaxies.

“Herschel's spectrometers cover a huge range of wavelengths, most of which has never been studied in such detail,” says Bruce Swinyard of University College London and STFC's Rutherford Appleton Laboratory.

“Not only can we study the detailed composition of gas and dust, but we can study the importance of specific types of molecules, such as water, in the formation of stars and planets.”

Latest Issue

E&T cover image 1607

"As the dust settles after the referendum result, we consider what happens next. We also look forward to an international summer of sport."

E&T jobs

  • Control System Engineer

    United Utilities
    • Lancaster, Lancashire
    • Up to £33415 + Comprehensive Benefits

    Provide ICA maintenance and engineering support to the Water & Wastewater Production

    • Recruiter: United Utilities

    Apply for this job

  • Signal Processing Engineer

    B&W Group
    • Steyning, West Sussex
    • Competitive Salary

    We are looking for a Signal Processing Engineer to support the R&D process on active loudspeaker products.

    • Recruiter: B&W Group

    Apply for this job

  • Principal Mechanical & Electrical Engineer

    De Montfort University
    • Leicestershire
    • Grade G: £36,672 - £46,414 per annum

    Join the Projects Team to develop and manage medium to large projects on the university estate.

    • Recruiter: De Montfort University

    Apply for this job

  • Advanced Commissioning Engineer

    National Grid
    • Nottinghamshire, Nottingham, England
    • £46000 - £57000 per year

    National Grid is at the heart of energy in the UK. The electricity we provide gets the nation to work, powers schools and lights everyone's way home. Our energy network connects the nation, so it's essential that it's continually evolving, advancing and i

    • Recruiter: National Grid

    Apply for this job

  • Electrical Design Engineer

    Oxford Instruments
    • Yatton, Bristol
    • Competitive salary plus excellent benefits

    We are looking for an electrical designer to join our engineering design team.

    • Recruiter: Oxford Instruments

    Apply for this job

  • Skilled Electrical Fitter

    MBDA
    • Bolton
    • Competitive Salary & Benefits

    What?s the opportunity?   The Electrical Fitter will carry out manufacturing and test tasks within the electrical department in accordance with product certification procedures, defined workmanship  ...

    • Recruiter: MBDA

    Apply for this job

  • Electrical Manufacturing Technician

    MBDA
    • Stevenage
    • Competitive Salary & Benefits

    What?s the opportunity?   As a qualified craftsman with experience in electrical manufacturing, the Manufacturing Technician will report to a Team Leader, receiving day to day ...

    • Recruiter: MBDA

    Apply for this job

  • Consultant Engineer (Electrical Power)

    BAE Systems
    • Cumbria, Barrow-In-Furness, England
    • Negotiable

    Consultant Engineer (Electrical Power) Would you like to play a key role in providing technical direction to the design of power systems on the Successor class submarines, which will replace the current Trident-equipped Vanguard class, currently in servic

    • Recruiter: BAE Systems

    Apply for this job

  • Electrician

    The Bristol Port Company
    • City of Bristol
    • C. £31,729 per annum plus supplements, benefits and overtime

    You’re a good team worker with a strong technical capacity – so bring your talents to a new role with one of the area’s leading employers.

    • Recruiter: The Bristol Port Company

    Apply for this job

  • Supply Restoration Team Manager (HV/SAP)

    SSE
    • Oxford, Oxfordshire
    • Salary: £37,588 to £49,645 + Car (SSE8) Depending on skills and experience

    SSE is looking to recruit a Supply Restoration Team Manager to join our existing team in Oxford.

    • Recruiter: SSE

    Apply for this job

More jobs ▶

Subscribe

Choose the way you would like to access the latest news and developments in your field.

Subscribe to E&T