May 13, 2009

Herschel, Planck ready for Thursday launch

The European Space Agency says the Ariane 5 rocket that will carry the Herschel and Planck satellites into space has been declared ready for launch.

The Arianespace declaration followed a Saturday launch readiness review and a final close-out review conducted Tuesday.

Liftoff is scheduled for 9:12 a.m. EDT Thursday from the French spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana.

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration's Herschel Science Center at the California Institute of Technology and U.S. and European Planck scientists will work together to analyze the satellites' data.

NASA said Herschel's telescope mirror -- about 11.5 feet in diameter -- is the largest ever launched into space. The mirror will collect longer-wavelength light in the infrared and sub-millimeter range -- light never before investigated by an astronomy mission.

Planck will look back in time to 400,000 years after the universe began 14 billion years ago in the big bang. The mission will spend at least 15 months making the most precise measurements yet of light at microwave wavelengths.

The ESA said it will provide live Web streaming of the launch of the space observatories at: