July 3, 2012
Gaia’s Antenna Checks Out Under ESA Tests
Lee Rannals for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online
After launching next year, the antenna will send Gaia's science data to Earth from its location about 930,000 miles away from Earth.
Gaia is expected to download 200 terabytes of data over its five year mission, which is the equivalent of nearly 45,000 standard DVDs.
The ESA spacecraft will be making precise measurements of the positions of a billion stars during its mission.
The information Gaia tracks down will be used to create a 3D map of stars in the Milky Way galaxy, helping to reveal information about its composition, formation and evolution.
The spacecraft uses its complex antenna to ensure Gaia's beam is always directed towards Earth as it rotates around in space.
ESA said a conventional mechanical antenna would create tiny vibrations that would impair the performance of the mapping telescope.
The test chamber's walls are covered with pyramids of non-reflective foam that absorb reflected radio waves to simulate the nature of space.
The chamber also blocks all external signals, like aircraft radar and cell phones, in order to calibrate and ensure accurate tests.
According to ESA, the 5-feet antenna panel is covered in mirrors to help radiate the heat generated by the satellite and received from the Sun.
Gaia will be launched in 2013 from Europe's Spaceport in French Guiana. The spacecraft's mission will have an initial timeframe of five years, and could possibly be extended if all goes according to plan.