Gaia Mission Postponed Glitch
October 24, 2013

Gaia Mission Delayed After Technical Glitch Discovered

Lee Rannals for - Your Universe Online

The European Space Agency (ESA) has delayed the launch of its Gaia mission due to a glitch found in another satellite already in orbit. The technical issue is pushing back the Gaia launch date from November 20 to anywhere between December 17 to January 5, 2014.

Gaia shares some of the same components involved in the technical glitch found in the working satellite in space. ESA said that prompt notification of this problem allowed engineers working on the final preparations for Gaia to take some precautionary measures.

The glitch involves components used in two transponders on Gaia that generate “timing signals” for downloading the science telemetry. These will be replaced in order to help avoid any future problems that could occur while in orbit.

Engineers will be removing the transponders at Kourou, then shipping the satellite back off to Europe where the components can be replaced and verified. After the ESA has replaced the faulty equipment, they will perform a final verification test to ensure its ability to work effectively.

ESA said that more details on the targeted launch date will come as they are made available, and it will be announced when the timeline for completing the additional work has been confirmed and the overall launch manifest of Arianespace has been established.

Gaia will be helping scientists 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. The spacecraft will be spinning slowly, sweeping its two telescopes across the entire sky and focusing their light simultaneously onto a single digital camera. The camera being used will be the largest ever in space.

“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,” said Timo Prusti, ESA’s Gaia project scientist.

ESA said the spacecraft’s sunshield passed the final deployment test in the clean room earlier in October. After launch this shield will be deployed to form a 34-foot-wide 'skirt' around Gaia’s base, helping to shade the spacecraft’s sensitive telescopes and cameras from sunlight while also providing solar power.

“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,” said Giuseppe Sarri, ESA’s Gaia project manager.