ESA’s Planck space telescope has been turned off after nearly 4.5 years soaking up the relic radiation from the Big Bang and studying the evolution of stars and galaxies throughout the Universe’s history.
Project scientist Jan Tauber sent the final command to the Planck satellite this afternoon at 12:10:27 UT, marking the end of operations for ESA’s ‘time machine’. Launched in 2009, Planck was designed to tease out the faintest relic radiation from the Big Bang – the Cosmic Microwave Background (CMB). The CMB preserves a picture of the Universe as it was about 380 000 years after the Big Bang, and provides details of the initial conditions that led to the Universe we live in today. “Planck has provided us with more insight into the evolution of the Universe than any mission has before,” says Alvaro Giménez, ESA’s Director of Science and Robotic Exploration. “Planck’s picture of the CMB is the most accurate ‘baby photo’ of the Universe yet, but the wealth of data still being scrutinised by our cosmologists will provide us with even more details.”
The mission began drawing to a close in August, when the satellite was nudged away from its operational orbit around the Sun–Earth ‘L2’ point towards a more distant long-term stable parking orbit around the Sun. In the last weeks, the spacecraft has been prepared for permanent hibernation, with the closing activities using up all of the remaining fuel and finally switching off the transmitter. “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,” says Steve Foley, the Planck Spacecraft Operations Manager at ESA’s European Space Operations Centre (ESOC). “Planck was a sophisticated spacecraft flying a complex mission, but with tight teamwork from the mission controllers, flight dynamics specialists, ground stations and our industrial partners, Europe received excellent scientific value for its investment,” adds Paolo Ferri, Head of Mission Operations.