GAIA mission in a nutshell

 When do we get started?

GAIA spacecraft  launches on 19 December 2013 and will remain in orbit for 5 years.

 What will be GAIA looking at?

About 1 billion stars, which constitute 1% of our Galaxy stars population. As a reference, GAIA predecessors, the Hipparcos mission (launched by ESA in 1989), only covered about 120 thousands stars


   What will GAIA do?

Measuring both position and movement of each star (looking about 70 times at each star), GAIA will produced a very accurate 3D map of our Galaxy. It will uncover yet unknown planets, asteroids, icy bodies, supernovae and quasars. Even more, better star maps could help us solve mysteries such as the origin of our universe and what the dark matter is.

  What’s new? 

GAIA is an astronomic revolution not only in terms of number of stars measured but also for the accuracy of its measurements.  GAIA has 30 times the light of its predecessor: As a comparison, where Hipparcos could capture the height of an astronaut standing on the Moon, Gaia will be able to measure his thumbnail! 

As described by the scientific magazine Nature:   

     • Gaia’s digital camera has a resolution of more than 900 megapixels whereas NASA’s Hubble space telescope only of 16 megapixel 

     • GAIA will collect twice as much imaging data in 5 years as Hubble in its first 21 years

     • This is why its new cosmic census due to be published in 2021 will remain unsurpassed for decades

  Challenges …and opportunities for you? 

GAIA will generate an unprecedented amount of data and the need to develop new computer software to ensure data are processed efficiently. Are you up to the challenge? 

  GAIA Spacecraft 

Includes 3 major functional modules

     • The payload module provides structural support to the single integrated instrument carried by GAIA for astrometry, photometry and spectrometry functions. 

     • The mechanical service module comprises all mechanical, structural and thermal elements 

     • The electrical service module offers support functions to the Gaia payload including radio communications with the Earth

  A truly European collaboration:

The spacecraft is controlled from the European Space Operations Centre (ESOC, Darmstadt, Germany) in collaboration with ground stations Cebreros (Spain) and Perth (Australia). Science operations are conducted from the European Space Astronomy Centre (ESAC, Villafrance, Spain).

More info

Gaia for educators

Gaia for kids 

Photo credits: Opening pictures courtesy - European Space Agency (ESA) / Closing picture courtesy - ESA/ATG medialab; background image: ESO/S