European Space Agency launches GAIA to Map Milky Way
- Gaia succeeds Hipparcos which was the very first mission aimed at studying astrometry i.e. the positions, distances, motions, brightness and colours of stars. While the latter covered only 100,000 stars, the Gaia aims to hover around 1% of the stars forming the Milky Way (approx a billion).
- The spacecraft observatory will operate from the L2 Lagrangian point located 1.5 million kilometres from the Earth.
- The probe is equipped to detect far-off solar systems and their family planets. Asteroids nearing earth’s orbit can also be traced by Gaia.
- Two telescopes fixated on the spacecraft and the most powerful camera to have been sent to the space so far will image the limitless sky. The data so collected will serve as a reference guide for upcoming ventures.
- The spacecraft was launched by the Soyuz launcher of France’s Arianespace, the world’s first commercial space transportation company. Soyuz launchers form one of the most evolved versions of spacecraft embarked with an updated digital flight control system.
- It is on a five years mission which will begin once all the systems are checked and calibrated during the four month commissioning phase of the craft.
Established in 1975 and comprised of 20 member states (18 are Member States of the EU), ESA is an intergovernmental organisation to shape Europe’s space programme. Its headquarter is in France. ESA is an independent organisation but is in close tie-up with the EU through an ESA/EC Framework Agreement. They also have a common European Strategy for Space and have designed the European Space Policy. Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland (having acceded to ESA Convention in Sep 2012), Portugal, Romania, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom, constitute the ESA. Canada also jointly works with ESA under the Cooperation Agreement.
European Robotic Arm (ERA): Launched with the vehicle Proton, in 2013, from the Baikonur Cosmodrome to land on the Russian Multipurpose Laboratory Module on the International Space Station, it is robotic servicing system. It works parallel to astronauts on the Russian segment, and reduces the time and labour during spacewalks.
May 2013: ESA launched its Proba – V satellite on May 7, 2013 to probe earth’s plant cover for analysing long term global environmental changes. The SPOT 4 and SPOT 5 Earth Observation Missions, to carry out the VEGETATION PROGRAMME collaboratively by the European Union, Belgium, France, Italy, and Sweden and being conducted under the supervision of the CNES (National Centre for Space Studies, France), use Vegetation Instruments for the same. Proba V is a succession to these instruments.
June 2013: SOHO (Solar and Heliospheric Observatory) a joint mission of EU and NASA to study the Sun was launched in Dec 1995. In June 2013, an extension to the mission was approved making it last until December 2016. At present, it is our primary source of solar data approximating to the real-time to help us predict space weather.
July 2013: Alphasat, supporting the Alphabus platform, was launched from the Kourou space station in French Guiana and is the largest European telecom satellite so far. Also, being the largest PPP venture, it is to bring the extended L-band spectrum in reach of the geomobile communication industry.
Oct 2013: Planck Mission of ESA ended on Oct 23, 2013 with its telescope being shut off. The telescope recorded, for nearly four and a half years, the data on the evolution of stars and galaxies of the universe. It studied the rays existing from the time of Big Bang to get us an insight into the origin of celestial bodies.
Nov 2013: SWARM Mission, with an objective to study Earth’s magnetic field, geo-dynamo processes, interaction between Earth’s core and mantle, etc., was launched in Nov 2013 and will stretch up to 4 four years.
May 2014: ESA’s Rosetta launched in March 2004 on an Ariane 5 rocket, is a robotic spacecraft to comprehensively study comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko by orbiting and landing on the comet. Rosetta is timed to approach the comet by May 2014 and to subsequently land on it by Nov 2014. It will arrive at 67P in August 2014 and will be the first of its kind to station its probe – Philae - on the surface of 67P.
Five missions under the Copernicus Programme: These are all meant to service the programme needs. They all will carry radar technologies and multi-spectral imaging instruments for terrestrial, aquatic and atmospheric monitoring. Copernicus is a joint venture of the EU and ESA and is a new name for Global Monitoring for Environment and Security programme, previously known as GMES.
- Sentinel-1: The first satellite of this mission is to be launched in 2014. It is a polar-orbiting, all-weather, day-and-night radar imaging mission for terrestrial and aquatic services.
- Sentinel-2: It is a polar-orbiting mission for monitoring of vegetation, soil and water cover, inland waterways and coastal areas through multi-spectral high-resolution imagery. It will also boost the emergency services. The mission would deliver its first satellite somewhere between 2014 and 2015.
- Sentinel-3: Also aiming to launch its satellite between 2014 and 2015, this is a polar-orbiting, multi-instrument mission to provide high-end results on sea-surface topography, soil colour and ocean colour, their temperatures, etc.
- Sentinel-4: It is to be placed upon a Meteosat Third Generation-Sounder (MTG-S) satellite in geostationary orbit for atmospheric monitoring.
- Sentinel-5: Similar to the Sentinel-4, this too will be embarked on a MetOp Second Generation satellite (Post-EPS) and is also dedicated to atmospheric monitoring.
Small GEO: standing for small geostationary satellite is a general purpose satellite platform which will provide a boost to European industry in commercial telecommunication arena. Being developed under a PPP it is scheduled to be launched in 2014 with Hipasat AG1 as its satellite. It will broaden the range of available products in the telecommunication market.
European Data Relay System (EDRS): To boost transmission of large quantities of data by reducing time delays during transmission, this satellite system is being designed under PPP model and is to be launched in 2014. It will bridge gaps in an already seamless and robust telecom network of the EU. These data relay satellites (placed in geostationary orbit) relay information to and from non-geostationary satellites, spacecraft, other vehicles and fixed hubs on Earth.
Intermediate eXperimental Vehicle (IXV): To consolidate the knowledge of developing and strengthening a re-entry system, this project is to be launched with the Vega launcher in 2014. Europe plans to test technologies for critical atmospheric re-entry and gear up for future space transportation and ventures.
ESA’s Cosmic Vision 2015-2025: It is a decade long planner of ESA to streamline its space programmes. It comprises a cycle which will consume all the space missions right from the inception phase to the data collection phase. It will succeed the Horizon 2000 plus plan which was preceded by Horizon 2000. GAIA is indeed a part of the Horizon 2000 plus decadal series. Finding the need for a long term planning to introduce the ideas and further developing them into concepts followed by implementing them and collecting results is what ESA’s decadal plans are all about.