Operating Herschel

Herschel’s orbit around L2 is much larger than that of the Moon around Earth: the average distance of Herschel from L2 is about 800 000 km and one full orbit will take a few months to complete.

Because of this large orbit, Herschel’s distance to Earth will vary between 1.2 and 1.8 million km. In addition, orbits around L2 are slightly unstable and subtle disturbances will cause the satellite to drift away. Herschel will have to perform small orbit correction manoeuvres every month.

Herschel operations are arranged in 24-hour cycles. The spacecraft will communicate with the ground station for three hours everyday. This short period dedicated to data download and command upload leaves ample time for the observatory to conduct scientific observations undisturbed.

Herschel orbit

The remaining 21 hours are dedicated to science observations. The data collected during observations are stored on board. In fact, it will also be possible for Herschel to use the three-hour communication period to continue some scientific observations.

Herschel will be operated by the Mission Control Team at the Mission Operations Centre (MOC) located at ESA’s European Space Operations Centre (ESOC) in Darmstadt, Germany, which is responsible for the health and safety of the satellite. The team also maintains all necessary contact with the spacecraft via ESA’s New Norcia (Australia) and Cebreros (Spain) deep space stations. From its orbit around L2, it takes about 10 seconds for Herschel to communicate with Earth (two-way).

Herschel at L2

During the three-hour communication slot, the Mission Control Team will top up the mission operations timeline for the next but one day. In this way, 48 hours of this timeline will be stored on board at the end of each communication slot; and a minimum of 24 hours at any given time.

Herschel will execute this mission operations timeline autonomously. In parallel, all scientific and housekeeping data, i.e. telemetry related to the service module, stored on board, will be downloaded during each communication slot.

The mission operations timeline is based on a schedule of observations produced by the Herschel science operations team in the Herschel Science Centre (HSC) located at ESA’s European Space Astronomy Centre (ESAC) in Villanueva de la Cañada, Spain. The HSC is the science office responsible for Herschel and is the centre for all interaction with the worldwide astronomical community that uses the observatory.

Herschel operating at the second Lagrange point (L2)

The spacecraft’s housekeeping and scientific data are downloaded from the spacecraft and routed from the receiving station to the MOC in ESOC, and from there to the HSC at ESAC. Here the data are processed, archived in the Herschel Science Archive, and made available to observers. Relevant data are distributed to the instrument control centres, where they are used to monitor and optimise instrument performance.

The Herschel instrument control centres are, for PACS: the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics, Garching, Germany; for SPIRE: the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory, UK; for HIFI: SRON Netherlands Institute for Space Research, the Netherlands. An additional centre is the NASA Herschel Science Center located at the California Institute of Technology Infrared Processing and Analysis Center, Pasadena, California, USA.

 

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