ESA's Gaia Star-Mapping Mission Set For November Launch
October 21, 2013

ESA’s Gaia Star-Mapping Mission Set For November Launch

[ Watch the Video: Mapping The Milky Way With Gaia ]

Lee Rannals for - Your Universe Online

The European Space Agency's (ESA) Gaia mission will be launching from Europe's spaceport in Kourou on November 20 with the goal of mapping out the stars in the universe like never before.

The billion-star surveyor's main goal is to create a highly accurate 3D map of the Milky Way Galaxy by observing a billion stars to determine their positions in space and their movement through it.

Gaia will be spinning slowly, sweeping its two telescopes across the entire sky and focusing their light simultaneously onto a single digital camera. The digital camera will be the largest ever flown in space, featuring nearly a billion pixels.

Other Gaia instruments will be able to assess the vital physical properties of each star, such as temperature, luminosity and composition. These measurements would allow astronomers to determine the origin and the evolution of the Milky Way Galaxy.

“Getting ready for launch is an extremely busy phase for the mission teams, but it’s also extremely exciting and rewarding to see our mission so close to launch,” Giuseppe Sarri, ESA’s Gaia project manager, said in a statement.

ESA said the spacecraft's sunshield passed the final deployment test in the clean room earlier this month. After launch this shield will be deployed and will form a 34-foot-wide "skirt" around Gaia's base.

[ Watch the Video: Gaia Sunshield Deployment Time-Lapse Sequence ]

The shield will help to shade Gaia's sensitive telescopes and cameras from sunlight, allowing them to cool to their operating temperature. It will also help provide power to operate the spacecraft via solar panels.

“With this important milestone – and others – now completed, we are working through an intensive checklist of final activities that will culminate in the much-awaited launch of our ‘discovery machine’,” adds Giuseppe.

Gaia will be mounted on a Soyuz launcher during the first week of November, and then integrated with the upper stage. On November 15, Gaia will be moved to the launch pad for integration with the Soyuz launcher waiting for its launch five days later.

“We are excited to see the launch less than one month away, but there are still a lot of final preparations to complete,” Timo Prusti, ESA’s Gaia project scientist, said in a statement. “Our quest to create an enormous stellar census to solve questions on the origin, structure and evolutionary history of our home Galaxy, and to discover tens of thousands of supernovas, previously unseen asteroids and even planets around nearby stars, is finally about to begin.”