Yesterday I posted about the important work being conducted on the LSST project. Today I wanted to cover another amazing project – ESA’s Gaia mission.
While many space borne observation platforms have provided excellent images to scientists, these have mostly been in two dimensions thus far. Gaia is a very ambitious mission by the European Space Agency to make a three dimensional map of the Milky Way. While GAIA originally stood for Global Astrometric Interferometer for Astrophysics, it seems that the acronym has been dropped in favor of the shorter name.
Gaia will also be used to detect and classify countless extra-solar planetary bodies. The craft aims to survey minor objects in the local system as well as around 500,000 distant quasars. Researchers hope that the project will help test general relativity and some basic laws of cosmology. These are lofty aims for a probe that is supposed to launch next year. It should be noted that the craft is loaded with a number of individual modules to perform each of these tests.
Gaia should be launched from a Soyuz-Fregat craft with a launch mass of around 2030 kg. It will be launched in 2013 if all goes well. The craft’s nominal mission would end in 2018 if scientists adhere to the current schedule. History is a good indicator of the fact that nominal missions usually mean very little, however. The Pioneer and Voyager missions are good examples of how spacecraft can be used far beyond the official end date. One can hope that the ESA will continue to use Gaia for much longer than only five years.
ESA Science & Technology: Gaia. (n.d.). Gaia Mission. Retrieved March 27, 2012, from http://sci.esa.int/science-e/www/area/index.cfm?fareaid=26
Image Credit: ESA
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