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Herschel Space Observatory



ESA's Herschel Space Observatory (formerly the Far Infrared and Submillimetre Telescope, or FIRST) was launched May 14, 2009. The main science goal is to study how the first galaxies and stars formed and evolved. The observatory will measure the chemical and dynamical evolution of galaxies and stars. It will be capable of probing deeply into dust-enshrouded star forming regions to observe protostars, planetary systems in the making, and the remnants of planet formation.

The observatory will be equipped with three scientific instruments: The Heterodyne Instrument for the Far Infrared (HIFI), a very high-resolution heterodyne spectrometer; the Photodetector Array Camera and Spectrometer (PACS), an imaging photometer and integral field line spectrometer; and the Spectral and Photometric Imaging Receiver (SPIRE), an imaging photometer and imaging Fourier transform spectrometer. These instruments operate at cryogenic temperatures and cover the 60 to 670 micron wavelength interval. The primary mirror is 3.5 m in diameter. NASA is participating in the mission by providing the telescope and contributing to the HIFI and SPIRE instruments.

Herschel was launched on an Ariane 5 along with Planck, but the two satellites will separate shortly after launch. Herschel will go into an operational orbit around the Sun-Earth L2 point, an optimal vantage point for far-IR and submillimeter observing. This location is well-isolated from the Earth's strong far-IR emission and provides good sky visibility because the Sun and Earth both lie in approximately the same direction.

Alternate Names

  • 34937
  • Far Infrared and Submillimetre Telescope (FIRST)
  • HerschelSpaceObservatory

Facts in Brief

Launch Date: 2009-05-14
Launch Vehicle: Ariane 5 ECA
Launch Site: Kourou, French Guiana
Mass: 3300 kg

Funding Agencies

  • European Space Agency (International)
  • National Aeronautics and Space Administration (United States)


  • Astronomy

Additional Information

Questions and comments about this spacecraft can be directed to: Coordinated Request and User Support Office



NameRoleOriginal AffiliationE-mail
Dr. Goran L. PilbrattProgram ScientistESA-European Space Research and Technology

Related Information/Data at NSSDCA


Other Sources of Herschel Information/Data

Herschel Space Observatory (ESA)
Hershel Science Centre (ESA)
NASA Herschel Science Center (IPAC)

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