This skirt-type structure will be just over 10 meters in diameter when opened in space, serving as a sunshade to permanently protect Gaia’s telescopes and allow their temperatures to drop to below –100 degrees Celsius, while also acting as a power generator for the spacecraft. The shield’s underside will be partially covered with solar panels and always is to face the Sun, generating electricity to operate the spacecraft and its instruments.
Gaia was developed by the European Space Agency and produced by Astrium for an ambitious mission to chart a three-dimensional map of the Milky Way. In the process, it will reveal the galaxy’s composition, formation and evolution.
The launch is planned for November 20th. With a liftoff mass of 2,030kg., Gaia is to be placed by the Soyuz launcher on a trajectory to an orbit around the Sun at a location known as the L2 Lagrangian point.
Arianespace’s mission with Gaia will be the Spaceport’s second liftoff with the Russian workhorse launcher in 2013. It is now designated Flight VS06, taking the numbering previously assigned to an upcoming Soyuz launch with four O3b Network satellites – which has been delayed at the customer’s request.