Illustration Credit: European Space Agency (ESA): CLICK photo to view full size and see below for all info and links to include where to stream live.

By my headline you can probably tell that I’m pretty disappointed that the European Space Agency (ESA) Gaia mission has not garnered more attention than it has because this amazing multi-tasker just may change the way we look at the universe! Let’s check out the launch information first; then we’ll get into the mission parameters.

On Thursday, December 19, 2013 at 0412 EST (0912 UTC) an Arianespace Soyuz ST-B rocket with Fregat-MT upper stage (Commercial version of the Soyuz-2) designated VS06 will lift off from Ensemble de Lancement Soyuz (ELS) Sinnamary at the Guiana Spaceport. It will carry with it the amazing Gaia spacecraft as part of ESA’s 2000 Cornerstone Missions which we will detail below. This will be the 6th launch of the Arianespace Soyuz rocket and it will place Gaia into a Sun-Earth L2 (Lagrangian point-2) position (932,000mi. or 1.5 million km. from Earth) where it will maintain a Lissajous orbit.

The Gaia mission itself takes roots in ESA’s Hipparcos mission that took place from 1989-1993. The Hipparcos mission operated for 3.5 years and its results generated the Hippacaros Catalogue of 118,000 stars which were charted with precision. An auxiliary star mapper positioned even more stars into a somewhat less accurate yet still unprecedented Tycho Catalogue. Completed in 2002, the final Tycho 2 Catalogue increased the total of mapped stars to an incredible 2,539,913 stars. I placed the link to the Hipparcos at the bottom of link city down there.

Just for reference the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory (SAO) Catalog contains 258,996 stars and the Henry Draper (HD) catalogue contains 225,300 stars. If you include the later (HDE/HDEC) extensions it ups it to 359,083 stars in total.

The Gaia mission which is scheduled to last approximately 5 years will create a 3D catalogue the exact positions, temperature, composition, luminosity and proper motions of over ONE BILLION stars (Anything brighter than magnitude 20) 200x more accurately than Hipparcos did and in the process of doing so will generate 10,000X more data! To do this it will make recordings of its targets approximately 70 times over its 5 year mission. It will also be able to identify which stars were founded in smaller satellite galaxies that were consumed by the Milky Way billions of years ago. In the end this will be the largest, most detailed stellar catalog ever created by far! Watching stellar motions on a large scale also allows the satellite to probe for the mysterious dark matter which is thought to hold the galaxy together……..pretty amazing stuff right?! Well that’s not all Gaia will do……

The Gaia mission is also expected to discover hundreds of thousands of galactic objects including hundreds of thousands of solar system objects (asteroids/comets), tens of thousands of exoplanets their orbits and inclinations via the astrometric planet detection method, rogue/dwarf planets and brown dwarfs as well as the detection of up to 500,000 distant quasars all while providing new testing of Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity by studying the bending of starlight by the Sun’s gravitational field thus directly observing the structure of space-time. Every year it will detect upwards of 20,000 supernovae before they reach full brightness giving earth based telescopes advanced warning of a coming supernova.

NAME: GAIA was originally an acronym for Global Astrometric Interferometer for Astrophysics. The working methods have changed slightly so the acronym doesn’t apply anymore but to keep mission continuity the name Gaia was kept.

This mission really is a testament to the ambitions and commitment of the European Union to the advancement of our understanding in the universe and I just can’t understand how there’s not more of a buzz about it.


ESA GAIA Status:


ESA GAIA Fact Sheet:

ESA GAIA Objectives:

ESA GAIA Twitter page:

ESA Twitter:

Arianespace Twitter:

Arianespace Soyuz Launch Complex in French Guiana:

Arianespace Soyuz vehicle page:

Arianespace Soyuz Users-Manual:

Spaceflight101 page with launch detail:

Spaceflight 101 page for the Soyuz 2-1B Rocket:

****HIPPARCOS and TYCHO Catalogues:

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