The Hubble Space Telescope grappled by the robotic arm of Space Shuttle Atlantis this afternoon, 13 May. (Credit: NASA TV via youtube.)
While we are fascinated by the data and photos gathered by space probes like Hubble or WMAP, it's easy to forget that the technology behind these missions is complex, and can fail. The service mission to Hubble had been postponed and temporarily cancelled in the wake of the Columbia disaster, and still now, Space Shuttle Endeavour is ready to lift off for rescue in case Atlantis gets in trouble. In February this year, NASA lost the Orbiting Carbon Observatory satellite following a rocket malfunction. The Ariane 5 rocket has failed completely twice in 43 launches, and missed to bring its payload in the right orbit on another two occasions.
Ariane 5 with Herschel and Planck, yesterday night (12-13 May) at the opening of the BAF (Bâtiment d'Assemblage Final) door before the transfer to the Launch Zone. (Credit: ESA/S. Corvaja, ESA@flickr.)
I was wondering why the decision had been taken by ESA to pack both Herschel and Planck on one rocket, putting both eggs in one basket. But it seems the Ariane is constructed to lift two satellites, launches are expensive, and so far, there is no need for commercial satellites to be parked at Lagrange Point L2.
So, I'll keep my fingers crossed tomorrow afternoon.
Update (14 May): ESA has set up a live web streaming of the Herschel-Planck launch starting at 14:40 CEST/12:20 UTC. The launch itself is scheduled to take place at 15:12 CEST/13:12 UTC.
Update (14 May, 16:00 CEST): Congratulations! All went well so far: Herschel and Planck have been detached from the carrier, and are sending signals. Now, to the Lagrange point. The transfer takes about two months.
- NASA site of the Hubble Service Mission "Mission to Hubble – Making Hubble More Powerful Than Ever"
- ESA sites of Herschel, Planck, and the Herschel and Planck launch campaign
- "Planck scientist" Andrew Jaffe is blogging from the Herschel/Planck launch in Kourou, French Guiana.