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HIFI Resumes Quest For Water In Universe

HIFI Resumes Quest For Water In Universe

The back up system of HIFI, the state of the art Dutch space instrument on ESA's Herschel space telescope, has been switched on successfully.

Due to an unexpected voltage peak in the electronic system HIFI has been inactive for more than 160 days, but on Thursday evening 14 January Mission Control in Darmstadt confirmed that HIFI is now fully capable of performing groundbreaking observations in space again.

The coming three years HIFI, built under the supervision of SRON Netherlands Institute for Space Research, will investigate the physics and chemistry of interstellar clouds of gas and dust. The infrared spectrometer will chart the amount of carbon and water in these gas clouds, which is expected to shed new light on the birth and early development of stars and planets.

Finally, after months of tension and hard work, the engineers and researchers of SRON, the HIFI partners and the European Space Agency (ESA) could breathe freely again that Thursday evening.

After some minor last obstacles had been overcome - it took an extra day warming up the back-up Local Oscillator Control Unit (the module in which the malfunction took place) to a degree that would ensure that the switch on would bear no risks whatsoever - HIFI is now in full swing again.

Just like most space instruments HIFI has a back up system in case of a failure in the electronic system, and all tests have shown convincingly that the control units of the back up system function perfectly.

Moreover, the sensors of HIFI perform on the same high level as in the beginning of August 2009, when the infrared spectrometer astonished the scientific community with the first, crystal clear observations of ionized carbon, the most challenging aspect of the measurement programme.


"In the daily communications with Herschel/HIFI strange readings had been received. HIFI was in a state that was not described in the manuals. (Credit: Image courtesy of SRON Netherlands Institute for Space Research)"

Source: SRON

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