Space

Gaia launches on cosmic census mission

Gaia launches on cosmic census...
Lift off of Gaia (Photo: ESA)
Lift off of Gaia (Photo: ESA)
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Gaia lowering onto Fregat stage (Photo: ESA)
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Gaia lowering onto Fregat stage (Photo: ESA)
Gaia lowering onto Fregat stage (Photo: ESA)
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Gaia lowering onto Fregat stage (Photo: ESA)
ESA's fleet of exploration craft (Image: ESA)
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ESA's fleet of exploration craft (Image: ESA)
Gaia arriving at the European Spaceport (Photo: ESA)
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Gaia arriving at the European Spaceport (Photo: ESA)
Gaia arriving at the European Spaceport (Photo: ESA)
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Gaia arriving at the European Spaceport (Photo: ESA)
Gaia's sunshield being unloaded in French Guiana (Photo: ESA)
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Gaia's sunshield being unloaded in French Guiana (Photo: ESA)
Gaia being lifted (Photo: ESA)
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Gaia being lifted (Photo: ESA)
Gaia being moved during preflight tests (Photo: ESA)
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Gaia being moved during preflight tests (Photo: ESA)
Gaia undergoing preflight tests (Photo: ESA)
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Gaia undergoing preflight tests (Photo: ESA)
Gaia undergoing electromagnetic compatibility tests (Photo: ESA)
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Gaia undergoing electromagnetic compatibility tests (Photo: ESA)
Areas that Gaia will study (Image: ESA)
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Areas that Gaia will study (Image: ESA)
Gaia being sealed in its fairing (Photo: ESA)
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Gaia being sealed in its fairing (Photo: ESA)
Setting Gaia on a support pedestal (Photo: ESA)
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Setting Gaia on a support pedestal (Photo: ESA)
Placing Gaia on a support pedestal (Photo: ESA)
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Placing Gaia on a support pedestal (Photo: ESA)
Gaia being unloaded in French Guiana (Photo: ESA)
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Gaia being unloaded in French Guiana (Photo: ESA)
Installing the sunshield assembly (Photo: ESA)
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Installing the sunshield assembly (Photo: ESA)
Gaia in its fairing arrives at the pad (Photo: ESA)
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Gaia in its fairing arrives at the pad (Photo: ESA)
Gaia being prepared for installation on the launch vehicle (Photo: ESA)
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Gaia being prepared for installation on the launch vehicle (Photo: ESA)
Gaia awaiting its fairing (Photo: ESA)
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Gaia awaiting its fairing (Photo: ESA)
Gaia in its fairing (Photo: ESA)
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Gaia in its fairing (Photo: ESA)
Raising Gaia at the pad (Photo: ESA)
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Raising Gaia at the pad (Photo: ESA)
Moving Gaia over the Soyuz (Photo: ESA)
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Moving Gaia over the Soyuz (Photo: ESA)
Preparing Gaia for moving to launch pad (Photo: ESA)
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Preparing Gaia for moving to launch pad (Photo: ESA)
Placing Gaia on the Soyuz (Photo: ESA)
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Placing Gaia on the Soyuz (Photo: ESA)
Moving Gaia into position over the Soyuz launcher (Photo: ESA)
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Moving Gaia into position over the Soyuz launcher (Photo: ESA)
Placing Gaia on the Soyuz (Photo: ESA)
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Placing Gaia on the Soyuz (Photo: ESA)
Gaia on top of the Soyuz (Photo: ESA)
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Gaia on top of the Soyuz (Photo: ESA)
Gaia mated with Soyuz (Photo: ESA)
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Gaia mated with Soyuz (Photo: ESA)
Installing the sun shield (Photo: ESA)
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Installing the sun shield (Photo: ESA)
Partially folded sunshield (Photo: ESA)
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Partially folded sunshield (Photo: ESA)
Deployment of sunshield assembly (Photo: ESA)
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Deployment of sunshield assembly (Photo: ESA)
Installing the sunshield (Photo: ESA)
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Installing the sunshield (Photo: ESA)
The sunshield partially installed (Photo: ESA)
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The sunshield partially installed (Photo: ESA)
Gaia's program (Image: ESA)
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Gaia's program (Image: ESA)
Unloading sunshield assembly (Photo: ESA)
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Unloading sunshield assembly (Photo: ESA)
Gaia service module with phased array radar (Photo: ESA)
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Gaia service module with phased array radar (Photo: ESA)
Artist's concept of Gaia (Image: ESA)
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Artist's concept of Gaia (Image: ESA)
Artist's concept of Gaia (Image: ESA)
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Artist's concept of Gaia (Image: ESA)
Artist's concept of Gaia's sunchield and solar panels (Image: ESA)
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Artist's concept of Gaia's sunchield and solar panels (Image: ESA)
Moving the Soyuz launch vehicle (Photo: ESA)
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Moving the Soyuz launch vehicle (Photo: ESA)
Raising the Soyuz launch vehicle (Photo: ESA)
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Raising the Soyuz launch vehicle (Photo: ESA)
Moving the Souz launch vehicle to the pad (Photo: ESA)
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Moving the Souz launch vehicle to the pad (Photo: ESA)
Moving the Souz launch vehicle to the pad (Photo: ESA)
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Moving the Souz launch vehicle to the pad (Photo: ESA)
The Soyuz launch vehicle arrives at the pad (Photo: ESA)
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The Soyuz launch vehicle arrives at the pad (Photo: ESA)
maneuvering the Soyuz launch vehicle (Image: ESA)
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maneuvering the Soyuz launch vehicle (Image: ESA)
The Soyuz launch vehicle at the pad (Photo: ESA)
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The Soyuz launch vehicle at the pad (Photo: ESA)
Raising the Soyuz launch vehicle (Photo: ESA)
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Raising the Soyuz launch vehicle (Photo: ESA)
The Soyuz launch vehicle at vertical (Photo: ESA)
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The Soyuz launch vehicle at vertical (Photo: ESA)
Installing the digital array in Gaia's telescopes (Photo: ESA)
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Installing the digital array in Gaia's telescopes (Photo: ESA)
X-ray view of Gaia (Image: ESA)
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X-ray view of Gaia (Image: ESA)
Exploded view of Gaia (Image: ESA)
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Exploded view of Gaia (Image: ESA)
Gaia with sunshield stowed (Photo: ESA)
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Gaia with sunshield stowed (Photo: ESA)
Gaia with sunshield partly deployed (Photo: ESA)
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Gaia with sunshield partly deployed (Photo: ESA)
Gaia with sunshield deployed (Photo: ESA)
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Gaia with sunshield deployed (Photo: ESA)
Lift off of Gaia (Photo: ESA)
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Lift off of Gaia (Photo: ESA)
View gallery - 55 images

A cosmic census got under way this morning as ESA’s Gaia mission lifted off atop a Soyuz–Fregat from the European Spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana at 9:12:19 AM GMT (10:12:19 AM CET). The 2,030 kg (4,475 lb) unmanned probe is at the start of a five-year mission to carry out a survey of one percent of one percent of the 100 billion stars that make up our galaxy as part of a project to produce the most detailed three-dimensional galactic map ever attempted.

According to ESA, the liftoff went as scheduled and without a hitch. As the rocket rose, it carried out a series of automated sequences. About 118 seconds into the flight, the four side boosters on the Soyuz fell away, and at 220 seconds the protective fairing around the Gaia spacecraft was jettisoned. At 42 minutes, Gaia separated from the Fregat third stage and after entering orbit at 88 minutes, the spacecraft began deploying its 10.5 m- (34.4 ft-) wide parasol-like sunshield.

Gaia is now in the early orbit phase of its mission as it heads into a Lissajous-type orbit around Lagrange 2 point, where the gravitational fields of the Sun and the Earth balance out, allowing the probe to maintain a stable position trailing the Earth at a distance of 1.5 million km (930,000 miles). It will carry out a six-month commissioning phase, after which it will use its instruments to chart the positions and velocities of billions of stars, as well as their brightness, temperature, and composition.

Artist's concept of Gaia (Image: ESA)
Artist's concept of Gaia (Image: ESA)

In addition, ESA expects it to discover hundreds of thousands of asteroids and comets in the Solar System, extrasolar planets, tens of thousands of brown dwarfs, up to twenty thousand supernovae, and hundreds of thousands of quasars. It carries the largest digital camera ever to have been sent into space, with a resolution of one billion pixels, and can make 40 million observations in a single day of objects one million times fainter than can be seen with the naked eye. ESA estimates that by the end of the mission it will collect one petabyte of data – the equivalent of 200,000 DVDs.

Gaia was originally scheduled to launch on November 20, but a malfunction in its X-band transponders caused a delay.

Source: ESA

View gallery - 55 images
2 comments
David Finney
Simply cool.
DaveBG
Awesome!