The European Space Agency (ESA) today officially announced that the Planck space telescope has been shut off for good. The final command to the telescope was sent from the European Space Operations Centre (ESOC) this afternoon. Planck researchers earlier this week had been preparing the telescope for that final moment, disconnecting its systems and burning off the remainder of its fuel to place it in a safe disposal orbit around the sun.
“It is with much sadness that we have carried out the final operations on the Planck spacecraft, but it is also a time to celebrate an extraordinarily successful mission,” said Steve Foley, Planck operations manager ESOC.
The Planck space telescope was launched in May 2009 to study and map the cosmic microwave background (CMB) – the faint radiation left over from the big bang. Planck was able to complete five full-sky surveys of the CMB with all of its instruments before the liquid helium coolant for its high-frequency instrument ran out. The telescope continued to use its low-frequency instrument to complete three more full-sky surveys and continued gathering data until October 3.
The end to the mission was similar to another ESA satellite named Herschel, which ran out of coolant back in April of this year and was switched off in June. Herschel was positioned near Planck in the Earth-Sun L2 Legrange point and is now orbiting the sun in a disposal orbit.
“Planck has provided us with more insight into the evolution of the Universe than any mission has before,” said Alvaro Giménez, director of Science and Robotic Exploration at ESA. “Planck’s picture of the CMB is the most accurate ‘baby photo’ of the Universe yet, but the wealth of data still being scrutinized by our cosmologists will provide us with even more details.”