Animation showing Gaia launch and journey to its operating orbit. The animation begins by visualising the launch from Europe’s Spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana, on a Soyuz-STB/Fregat-MT vehicle. The rocket’s four boosters are jettisoned 118 seconds after launch, and the spacecraft fairing is jettisoned after 220 seconds. Following two burns, the Fregat upper stage separates from Gaia 42 minutes after launch. The separation activates an automatic sequence onboard Gaia, including switching on the spacecraft’s transmitters, pressurisation of the propulsion system, initial attitude acquisition and deployment of the sunshield. By then Gaia will be on its transfer orbit from Earth towards L2, a virtual point in space some 1.5 million kilometres ‘behind’ Earth as seen from the Sun. Gaia will take about a month to cruise and manoeuvre into a ‘Lissajous’ orbit around L2. The size of the orbit is typically 340 000 x 90 000 km and takes 180 days. There, Gaia will spin slowly in order to make systematic repeated observations of stars covering the whole sky with its two telescopes. Over its five-year mission, Gaia will monitor the positions, motions, temperatures, luminosities and compositions of a billion stars.