Planck is a European Space Agency (ESA) mission that will provide answers to some of the most important questions in modern science - how did the universe begin, how did it evolve to the state we observe today, and how will it continue to evolve in the future? Planck's objective is to analyze, with the highest accuracy ever achieved, the remnants of the radiation that filled the universe immediately after the Big Bang, which we observe today as the Cosmic Microwave Background (CMB). It was launched on May 14 2009.

Watch the Launch


ESA Planck website

Planck in Orbit


Planck Mission Has Roots and Branches in Berkeley - Berkeley Lab News Center, May 14, 2009
by Paul Preuss

Even before the results of his differential microwave radiometer experiment aboard NASA’s Cosmic Microwave Background Explorer (COBE) had been announced, George Smoot of Berkeley Lab’s Physics Division was eager to launch a space mission that could definitively explore the cosmic microwave background (CMB). Read more here.

Marco Bersanelli and George Smoot were on hand to
watch the launch of the Planck mission from the ESA’s
base in French Guiana. With Reno Mandolesi, Bersanelli
and Smoot proposed one of the satellites that evolved
into Planck.



Planck History In 1992, George Smoot, Reno Mandolesi, and Marco Bersanelli began work on the original COBRAS proposal (COsmic Background Radiation Anisotropy Satellite) that became the Planck Surveyor. Dr. Smoot has been involved with Planck since its inception, and is a senior member of the project along with Martin White.  Smoot will be present for the launch on Thursday, May 14, at 6:12 a.m. Pacific Daylight Time at the Guiana Space Center. Julian Borrill, Christopher Cantalupo, Sara Ricciardi, Fredrico Stivoli, and Carlo Baccigalupi are all members of the data analysis team.


Planck Story on YouTube



Herschel and Planck in the fairing and attached to the Ariane V launcher.



A Launch for Science

May, 2009  For its second launch of the year, Arianespace will orbit two scientific satellites for the European Space Agency: the Herschel space telescope and the Planck scientific observatory. This is the only launch vehicle on the commercial market today capable of launching two payloads simultaneously, and handling a complete array of missions, from commercial launches into geostationary orbit, to scientific missions into special orbits.

The launcher will be carrying a total payload of 6,001 kg, including 5,322 kg for the two satellites,which will be released separately into their targeted orbit. The launch will be from Kourou, French Guiana.

The Herschel space telescope and the Planck scientific observatory were both built by Thales Alenia Space. Read more about launch logistics in this PDF.





The Planck-LFI Programme  This paper provides an overview of the Low Frequency Instrument (LFI) programme within the ESA Planck mission.

The LFI instrument has been developed to produce high precision maps of the microwave sky at frequencies below the peak of the Cosmic Microwave Background (CMB) radiation spectrum. LFI is the result of an active collaboration among about a hundred universities and research centres, in Europe, Canada and USA, organized in the LFI Consortium (supported by more than 300 scientists) and funded by national research and space agencies. The scientific goals of the Planck-LFI programme range from mainstream cosmology to galactic and extragalactic astrophysics.

The Planck-LFI Programme PDF


Figure 9. Top panel: picture of the LFI focal plane showing the feedhorns and main frame. The central portion of the main frame is designed to provide the interface to the HFI front-end unit, where the reference loads for the LFI radiometers are located and cooled to 4K. Bottom panel: A back-view of the LFI integrated on the Planck satellite. Visible are the upper sections of the waveguides interfacing the front-end unit, as well as the mechanical support structure.


Planck-LFI Instrument Description This paper provides an overview of the LFI instrument, discusses the leading scientific requirements, and describes the design solutions adopted for the various hardware subsystems. The main drivers of the radiometric, optical and thermal design are discussed, including the stringent requirements on sensitivity, stability, and rejection of systematic effects. PDF


Planck Mission:
-Set tight constraints on cosmological parameters
-Study the ionization history of the Universe
-Probe the dynamics of the inflationary era
-Test fundamental physics beyond inflation


Herschel and Planck launch timeline

11 May 2009
There's a buzz in the Main Control Room as the launch of Herschel and Planck gets closer. The two satellites are scheduled to launch together at 15:12 CEST, 14 May, on an Ariane 5 from ESA's Spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana. Several critical events are planned leading up to and after launch. Read more from ESA.


BBC News  Telescope 'Cousins' Meet at Last
(includes video explanation of Planck)


Planck Follows Herschel to Launch Site

20 February 2009
Planck, ESA’s microwave observatory that will study the relic radiation of the Big Bang, was shipped from Liège, Belgium, to Europe’s Spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana, on 18 February. The spacecraft is scheduled to be launched in tandem with ESA’s Herschel infrared observatory on 16 April. Read more here. (includes video description of Planck)


Herschel, ESA's cutting-edge space observatory, will carry the largest, most powerful infrared telescope ever flown in space. A pioneering mission to study the origin and evolution of stars and galaxies, it will help understand how the Universe came to be what it is today. Herschel will tap into unexploited wavelengths, seeing phenomena out of reach for other observatories, at a level of detail that has not been captured before. The telescope will collect almost twenty times more light than any previous infrared space telescope. Read more from the ESA Herschel page.









ESA Animation of Planck mapping the CMB




More ESA images and animations




What the Planck Satellite Will See
Simulating a map of the cosmic microwave background

Astrophysicist Julian Borrill of the Computational Research Division and Berkeley Lab researchers have achieved what they say is a “significant milestone” by processing a year's worth of simulated Planck data at the single most CMB-sensitive frequency, producing a high-resolution CMB map in just two hours Read more here.

Julian Borrill, Radek Stompor, and Christopher Cantalupo


Computational Cosmology Center

Cosmic Microwave Background Data Analysis At NERSC



A Rising Tide of Cosmic Data
Simulating Planck's full focal plane—and beyond
Paul Preuss

In 1998 the balloon-borne BOOMERANG and MAXIMA experiments made what were then the highest-resolution measurements of minute variations in the temperature of the cosmic microwave background radiation (CMB). Their high resolution was achieved by scanning small patches of the sky to gather unprecedented volumes of data. The analysis of these datasets presented a significant computational challenge – they were the first CMB datasets to require supercomputing resources. Read more here.

MAXIMA (pictured) and BOOMERANG, balloon-borne cosmic microwave background experiments, were the first to generate so much data that a supercomputer and special algorithms were needed to analyze the results.



BBC News Report - Satellite prepares to go super-cold by Paul Rincon
Planck arrives at European Space Research and Technology Centre (ESTEC)
Dr. Smoot at Planck Inspection 2/2007
Press extracts regarding the Planck mission
Article in espace magazine (in French) PDF


Full size poster PDF




Planck in production and artist's model of Planck in operation



Planck will take between four and six months to reach its operational orbit around L2, the second Lagrange point of the Earth-Sun system, which is about 1.5 million kilometres away from the Earth. During the journey Planck will perform a number of manoeuvres. As Planck orbits L2, it makes one rotation about the Sun per year. The spacecraft spin axis has to be rotated at the same rate in order to remain Sun pointed. This is achieved by making regular manoeuvres that will be combined with periodically moving the spin axis out of the ecliptic plane to obtain full sky coverage. In addition to keeping the spin axis pointed within ten degrees of the anti-Sun direction to keep the payload in shadow, it must also be kept within fifteen degrees of the Earth direction in order to keep the Earth in the field-of-view of the communications antenna. Source: ESA Planck Orbit / Navigation




Planck Archive page