Dressing Gaia

"Dressing Gaia in her sunshield in preparation for launch.  Credit: Ariannespace / ESA

“Dressing Gaia in her sunshield in preparation for launch. Credit: Arianespace / ESA

I’ve been patiently waiting and waiting and waiting for about 7-years now and FINALLY!!!!   We have a date — 20 November 2013.

One of the most exciting parts of Gaia is the the ability to measure the distances to the nearby stars to an accuracy of 0.001 percent and near the galactic center about 8,000 parsecs to within 20 percent as it builds up a detailed and as precise as possible 3-D all sky map.

The Gaia website.

From Arianespace

A high-tech sunshield to protect the Gaia spacecraft during its deep space mission is now being installed at the Spaceport as preparations continue for Arianespace’s Flight VS06 Soyuz launch of the billion-star mapper from French Guiana.

In activity at the Spaceport’s S1B clean room facility, the carbon-fiber reinforced composite framework for this deployable skirt-like system has been positioned around Gaia. It clears the way for integration of the sunshield’s two parallel multi-layer insulation blankets over the next several days.

Gaia’s sunshield performs an essential role: keeping the spacecraft in shadow, and thereby maintaining its scientific instruments at a constant temperature of approximately –110°C.

This will enable Gaia to perform its ambitious mission of making the largest, most precise three-dimensional map of the Milky Way by surveying an unprecedented one percent of its 100 billion stars. Also expected are discoveries of hundreds of thousands of unknown celestial objects, including extra-solar planets and failed stars known as brown dwarfs.

With a deployed sunshield size of some 10 meters across and an area of approximately 75 square meters, the system is composed of a dozen folding panels that will rotate outward from the hexagonal/conical-shaped Gaia to their opened position after the Soyuz launch.

The sunshield was produced by Spain’s SENER, while the spacecraft’s designer and builder is Astrium – all operating under contract to the European Space Agency, which is responsible for the Gaia mission’s development and operation.

After Gaia’s launch by Arianespace, the spacecraft will be placed in an orbit around the Sun at the second Lagrange point (L2) – a distance of 1.5 million kilometers from the Earth.

Flight VS06 is Arianespace’s sixth Soyuz launch at the Spaceport – and the medium-lift launcher’s first deep-space mission from French Guiana. Liftoff is scheduled for November 20.

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