- Gaia’s ultra-stable silicon carbide platform has enabled accurate mapping of 1.6 billion stars with 1.1 billion published today
- Precision optical instrument could pick out a human hair at 700 km
- Cold gas micro-propulsion system keeps Gaia ultra-stable as it orbits Lagrange point L2
14 September 2016 – The Airbus Defence and Space-built Gaia spacecraft has mapped more than 1.6 billion stars thanks to its ultra-stable platform, with data on the positions and intensity of 1.1 billion stars published today.
Gaia, for the European Space Agency, has been mapping the universe since its launch on a Soyuz rocket in December 2013. Its mission is to carry out a far reaching census of our Milky Way galaxy. As the spacecraft spins it tracks huge numbers of stars simultaneously whilst maintaining near-perfect control of its attitude in space. Its micro-propulsion system can make precise adjustments using its thrusters to keep the satellite correctly aligned – it would need 1,000 of these micro-thrusters on Earth to lift a single sheet of paper.
At the heart of spacecraft is the video processing unit which has more processing power than any other ESA spacecraft. Gaia’s data is received at ESA’s 35 metre diameter radio dishes in Cebreros, Spain, and New Norcia, Australia.
“Today’s results will open up a new era in astronomy – a huge increase in precise data that will inform astronomers about the dynamics and origin of our galaxy and about hundreds of thousands of new objects in our solar system and beyond. All the engineers and technicians who designed and built Gaia at Airbus Defence and Space can be extremely proud,” said Nicolas Chamussy, Head of Space Systems at Airbus Defence and Space.
This release of data from Gaia builds upon and dramatically improves upon the results of ESA’s first astrometry mission, Hipparcos, launched in 1989, and also developed by Airbus Defence and Space.