Gaia “opens up” at the Spaceport in preparation for Arianespace’s next Soyuz launch

Arianespace’s payload for the Soyuz VS06 mission in November is now ready to take in some sun on its upcoming deep-space trip, as the completed sunshield for Europe’s billion-star surveyor – Gaia – has been opened and validated for the final time at the Spaceport in French Guiana.

During activity in the Spaceport’s S1B clean room facility (pictured at right, from top to bottom), Gaia’s completed sunshield – which is composed of a carbon-fiber reinforced composite framework with thermal blankets covering the structural skeleton – was lowered around the spacecraft’s base, forming a flat disc more than 10 meters across.

Once deployed in space, this disc will shade Gaia from the Sun, maintaining a -110°C approximate temperature for its scientific instruments. In addition, the sunshield is equipped with solar array panels to power all onboard electronics, including data processing computers, as well as the communications, navigation and thermal control systems.

Operating under contract to the European Space Agency, the sunshield’s installation was performed by prime contractor Astrium’s assembly, integration and testing team – with support from Spain’s SENER, which is responsible for the sunshield’s design and manufacture.

With a liftoff mass of approximately 2,030 kg. for its Arianespace Soyuz launch, Gaia is tasked with the ambitious mission of measuring the position and velocity of approximately one billion stars, as well as determining their brightness, temperature, composition and motion through space, while creating a three-dimensional map of the Milky Way Galaxy.

This spacecraft’s scientific instruments can detect objects one million times fainter than the unaided human eye can see. For objects 4,000 times dimmer than human viewing limits, Gaia will measure to an accuracy of 24 microarcseconds – comparable to observing the diameter of one strand of human hair at a distance of 1,000 km.

As the first deep-space passenger on an Arianespace Soyuz flight from French Guiana, Gaia will operate from the second Lagrange point (L2) in its orbit around the Sun, which keeps it on pace with Earth, while allowing for a more stable viewpoint some 1.5 million kilometers away.

Designated VS06 in Arianespace’s numbering system, this flight – scheduled for a November 20 liftoff – represents the sixth mission of the medium-lift Russian workhorse from French Guiana since its initial launch from the Spaceport in 2011.

Source / Author: Arianespace

Photo: Arianespace