Gaia spacecraft to be flung 1.5 million km from Earth

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Gaia spacecraft to be flung 1.5 million km from Earth

Caroline Morley, online picture researcher

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(Image: ESA/Astrium-A. Martin, 2012)

The European Space Agency is continuing to prepare for the launch of its Gaia spacecraft set for 2013. Gaia’s mission will see it creating a 3D map of a billion stars in the Milky Way using a 1.5-gigapixel camera.

In this photo, taken at the EADS CASA test facility in Madrid, Spain, checks are being made on Gaia’s 1.5-metre-wide antenna panel to ensure data will reach Earth safely. The foam spikes on the walls of the test room block radio signals to simulate space. Electronic steering will ensure the antenna is always directed towards its target while the spacecraft rotates in space as it maps the stars, asteroids, extrasolar planets and other objects.

After launch, Gaia will take up an orbit around the sun 1.5 million kilometres beyond, but in pace with, Earth’s to minimise the distance the weak signal has to travel. During its initial five-year mission, Gaia will send an estimated 200 terabytes of data to radio dishes in Spain and Australia. A working antenna is obviously central to downloading this data safely.

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