Controllers at the European Space Operations Centre have put the Herschel space telescope to sleep

Herschel space telescope put to sleep

Herschel space telescope has been put to final rest by controllers at the European Space Operations Centre (ESOC) in Darmstadt Germany, today.

During the several-hour-long procedure, the engineers have emptied the fuel tanks, in order to prevent any possible future in-orbit explosion that would lead to multiplying the amount of debris from the satellite. They have also ceased all communication links with the 3,300kg spacecraft, which is now drifting around the Sun some 2.14 million km away from Earth.

The spacecraft was moved away from its position in the so-called Lagrangian point L2, in order not to pose any threat to future solar missions that would like to take advantage of this stable position.

The telescope, built by the European Space Agency (ESA), was functional between 2009 and 2013 and provided scientists with ground-breaking data about the evolution of the Universe. It stopped working in April this year, after it ran out of liquid helium coolant which was crucial for keeping the scientific instruments aboard the spacecraft functioning correctly.

Herschel, carrying a 3.5m mirror, was the largest infrared telescope ever launched and was capable of seeing the coldest and dustiest objects in space and capturing images of areas where stars are forming.

"Herschel has exceeded all expectations, providing us with an incredible treasure trove of data that will keep astronomers busy for many years to come," said Proffessor Alvaro Giménez, ESA's director of Science and Robotic Exploration earlier this year.  

 Herschel will be replaced in the L2 point with the next ESA mission Gaia that is expected to be launched in September this year. 

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