Paris, Feb 10 : ESA (European Space Agency) is preparing to assemble the telescope of its space-based infrared observatory, Herschel, with its spacecraft in the next few weeks, which would help to observe relatively cool objects everywhere in the universe, shedding new light on the birth and evolution of stars and galaxies.
Herschel's telescope, which will carry the largest mirror ever flown in space, has already been delivered to ESA's European Space Research and Technology Centre, ESTEC, where engineers and scientists are busy with the final steps that will prepare the infrared observatory for launch in late 2008.
The 3.5-m diameter telescope is made from 12 silicon-carbide petals brazed together to form a single structure and coated with a layer of reflective aluminium, forming a remarkably lightweight mirror.
The fully-assembled telescope, which includes the primary mirror, the secondary mirror and its support structure, is a light 320 kg; remarkably low for such a sturdy structure capable of withstanding high launch loads and functioning precisely in the harsh environment of space.
Using this powerful telescope, scientists would be able to look deep into space, at long infrared wavelengths, as Herschel's spectral coverage ranges from far-infrared to sub-millimetre wavelengths.
This would make it possible for astronomers to observe and study relatively cool objects everywhere in the universe, from our own back yard to distant galaxies, thus shedding new light on the birth and evolution of stars and galaxies.
The next step is testing the telescope's interface with the spacecraft. Additionally, the mirrors will be tested for optical and mechanical stability.