European 'big bang' space telescope to be switched off

Oct. 8, 2013 at 5:15 PM
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PARIS, Oct. 8 (UPI) -- The process of disposing of a space telescope that mapped the "oldest light" in the universe has begun, its European controllers say.

The European Space Agency's Planck telescope, currently around 1.6 million miles from Earth, has completed its mission and will be turned off in two weeks, they said.

ESA controllers will initiate a burn on telescope's thrusters Wednesday, pushing it away from the planet into a separate orbit, and then a second burn Oct. 21 will burn off the remaining propellant supply.

"We drain everything so there's no possibility of having an exploding tank in the future," Steve Foley, ESA's spacecraft operations manager for Planck, told the BBC. "We'll disconnect the batteries and switch off the transmitters, patching the software so they can never be re-activated. Final contact is scheduled for Oct. 23, and that will be it -- Planck will just drift off."

Among the accomplishments of Planck has been the survey of the Cosmic Microwave Background, the "first light" still expanding across space after the universe cooled sufficiently from its Big Bang beginning to form the universe's first matter, hydrogen atoms.

"Planck has done a fantastic job and has lasted considerably longer than expected," ESA's senior scientific adviser Mark McCaughrean said. "Any sadness about it being turned off is completely outweighed by the scientific results it has already delivered, namely the most precise assessment of the composition, structure, and early evolution of the Universe ever made."

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