April 2, 2009

ESA delays Herschel, Planck launch date

The European Space Agency has again postponed scheduling a joint launch date for its Herschel and Planck spacecraft.

The space agency said the latest delay was initiated despite verification of operational procedures for the satellites. However, during final checks on the spacecraft, concerns have arisen and a short delay is proposed in order to allow ESA and Arianespace to carry out a final and independent check of the safety margins, the ESA said in a statement.

The ESA last month postponed an April 16 launch, citing the need to validate operational procedures following a software update.

The Herschel telescope mirror will be the largest ever launched into space. The ESA said its complexity means great care must be taken to ensure proper safety procedures are in place to protect the telescope from liftoff stresses.

The Herschel telescope will become the first space observatory to cover the full far infrared and sub-millimeter wave band, Wikipedia said, while Planck is designed to observe the cosmic microwave background.

The Herschel and Planck satellites, currently at the ESA's spaceport in French Guiana, are reported in perfect condition. Engineers are awaiting the new launch date before resuming final preparations.