Launched from the European Space Port in French Guinea on 19 December 2013, Gaia is taking precise positional measurements of approximately one billion stars and radial velocity measurements of the brightest 150 million objects. Set to operate until 2018 and possibly 2019, Gaia will be sending back information about the composition, formation and evolution of the galaxy we live in, the Milky Way. Scientists hope that the mission’s data will shed some light on some of the basic questions about space: how does Earth exist? How did this all happen?
Gaia’s spectrophotometric observations from each of the billion stars will help determine the origin, structure and development of galaxies, solar systems, planet systems, quasars and even asteroids. What answers will all this data reveal? Do we really want to know? Now, that is pretty existential stuff to think about, isn’t it? Luckily, we have a couple of years to go.
Built by Astrium (now known as Airbus Defence & Space) for ESA, Gaia is one complex 2-tonne machine packed with sophisticated instrumentation including a billion-pixel spectrophotometric array aligned to two telescopes, an atomic clock and a 10-meter sunshade.
It is ind-blowing to think that this spacecraft is simply orbiting 1.5 million kilometers from Earth and sending back data that might possibly answer the mysteries of the universe. But what is even more thought-provoking is how do you even start to guarantee that Gaia and other priceless space payloads, like the CHEOPS telescope, make it from the launch pad to the lonely depths of space with everything not only intact, but in perfect working order?
Well, for people like Paul-Eric Dupuis and his team at Intespace in Toulouse, France, the answer is simple. You test it using the latest simulation and testing solutions in one of the most advanced test facilities with some of the world’s most experienced people. And you test it hand-in-hand with your customers, using a dedicated environmental testing solution from Siemens PLM Software, including some of the most advanced LMS SCADAS™ hardware and LMS Test.Lab™ software.