Planck : end of an unrivaled scientific mission – Oct 23, 2013– Cannes, France (Techreleased) – The Planck satellite, part of the joint scientific mission, Herschel-Planck, with Thales Alenia Space as prime contractor, completed its mission today. A high-tech jewel, considered, with Herschel, one of the most complex satellites ever constructed in Europe, Planck was built by a Thales Alenia Space-led industrial team on behalf of the European Space Agency (ESA). Herschel was launched on May 14, 2009 along with the Herschel satellite. This scientific observatory had a service life of nearly four and half years, that is 2.5 times its expected life time.

Planck satellite
Planck satellite

First European satellite dedicated to the cosmic microwave background (CMB), Planck studied this radiation by measuring temperatures fluctuations throughout the celestial sphere. The satellite’s large telescope captured radiation from deep space and sent it to two radio-detection assemblies that converted these signals into temperatures. These ultra-sensitive detectors were able to record differences in temperature from deep space down to a millionth of a degree! Planck could therefore take a snapshot of the Universe as it was just 380,000 years after the Big Bang, some 14 billion years ago.

The spacecraft scanned 5 times in succession the entire sky, with the ability to discern fine details and a temperature sensitivity far superior to all of its predecessors. Planck carried a telescope fitted with a primary mirror 1.5 meters in diameter, as well as two instruments developed by astronomers and scientists from throughout Europe, grouped in two consortiums :
– LFI (Low Frequency Instrument), an instrument operating in the microwave band, developed by an Italian-led team.
– HFI (High Frequency Instrument), an instrument operating in the submillimetric band, developed by a French-led team, with detectors cooled down to 0.1K – one-tenth of a degree above absolute zero (-273.15°C).

“The Planck satellite has perfectly performed its mission flawlessly, exceeding its initial technical specifications,” said Jean-Jacques Juillet, Director of European Programs at Thales Alenia Space. “We are delighted to have successfully completed this very ambitious mission, still unprecedented to date, as was Herschel. Our next challenge will be the two Exomars missions (2016 and 2018), featuring a probe that will take samples up to 2 meters deep in the Martian soil – a world first at this depth.”