Wednesday May 13th 2009. Launch -1 day and Counting.
We have rolled out. The weather is fine in Kourou. Everything is working. There is no hint of any kind of problem. Everyone is nervous and excited. This afternoon (breakfast time in Kourou), the doors of the Final Assembly Building opened and Ariane Vehicle 188 was rolled out ready for launch tomorrow (Thursday) at 13:12UT.
The Ariane 5 ECA is huge. People who are down at Kourou for the launch are surprised by just how big the rocket is. It can blast a full 10 tonnes into geostationary orbit and launching Herschel and Planck to Lagrange, 1.8 million kilometres from the Earth doesnt even stretch it because it is not actually even at its maximum capacity with two big telescopes on board.
People here are tense, nervous and excited. There is a huge amount of pride at being involved in Herschel. This is the culmination of about 25 years of work from the time that the first design studies started. It is also a thoroughly exciting time. Herschel will be a revolutionary instrument. It is more than 4 times bigger than any equivalent previous telescope, so will take far sharper infrared images of the most distant galaxies in the Universe were stars are forming. Herschel is far larger than the Hubble and has the most sophisticated instruments that science can build in 2009. In fact, some of the technology is so new that even 3 years ago it did not exist.
I have been running the Herschel Twitter page (http://twitter.com/ESAHerschel ) running live updates and quotes from the people who have been making Herschel work. There have been some great quotes from the team. Every time that I post there seem to be more people following the postings.
Events to look for tomorrow:
08:22UT Fuelling of the upper stage starts
13:08UT Fuel tanks pressurised
Launch +2m18s Solid rocket booster jettison
Launch +4m03s Fairing jettison
Launch +9m05s Upper stage ignition
13:38UT Herschel separation
13:40UT Planck separation
13:50UT First signals received from Herschel