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Herschel and Planck, two of the most complex satellites ever produced in Europe, will launch today powered by advanced cryogenic solutions provided by Air Liquide. In anticipation of take-off, the company has provided details on the cooling technology in use on these state-of-the-art crafts.
Cryogenics In Space- 5/13/2009
For the Planck mission, Air Liquide had to meet an exceptional technological challenge, developing a dilution cooler of an efficiency never achieved before. Group technologies will hence enable extremely low temperatures to be reached, close to absolute zero (-459°F) in a highly restrictive space environment. Planck will be observing the universe as it was more than 13 billion years ago, thanks to light emitted about 380,000 years after the Big Bang and which is still travelling freely through space. In order to detect the weakest signals, the instruments have to be operating at a very low and stable temperature of 0.1 Kelvin ("K"), or one tenth of a degree above absolute zero. The Planck satellite, with its cooler, will be able to map the cosmic radiation from the edge of the universe during its one-and-a-half years of operation. This is the first time that this technology has been qualified for use in space. In orbit, Planck will become the coldest point in space, at 0.1 K instead of 2.7 K. For this exceptional project, teams at Air Liquide worked in close collaboration with experts from the Néel Institute (CNRS, National Center for Scientific Research, France) and the Space Astrophysics Institute (IAS) on behalf of the National Center for Space Studies (CNES, France).
The requirements for the astronomy satellite Herschel lay mainly in the design and build of its cryogenic tank. This tank will store superfluid helium at a temperature of 1.6 K, designed to cool the telescope and its three observation instruments. Air Liquide thus designed and built a huge 2,400-liter tank which had to be perfectly sealed. Equipped with a mirror 3.5 meters in diameter, this satellite will become the largest space telescope ever installed in space and will provide astronauts with unique means of observing the universe and hence, explore zones where stars, the centers of galaxies and planetary systems are born.
François Darchis, member of the Air Liquide Executive Committee in charge of advanced technologies, declares: "Once again, our teams have demonstrated their ability to meet major challenges in the field of cryogenics. Committed to the space adventure for almost five decades, Air Liquide is confirming its presence alongside the scientific community by developing innovative technologies for science to push back the boundaries of knowledge."
Photo credit: ESA