Airbus Defence and Space

Exploring the universe Press releases

Airbus Defence and Space’s Gaia telescope begins journey into space to map the stars

• Gaia, Europe’s most advanced space telescope has been successfully launched and is now en route towards its final orbit, the L2 Lagrangian point, to be reached mid of January

• Designed and built by Airbus Defence and Space for the European Space Agency, Gaia will map the Milky Way in 3D to improve understanding of the origins and evolution of our galaxy

• Gaia draws on the best in space technology, including Silicon Carbide for the structure, a billion pixel sensor and cold gas micro-propulsion

19 December 2013 – The scientific satellite Gaia, designed and built by Airbus Defence and Space – the world's second largest space company – has been successfully launched from Kourou, French Guiana aboard a Soyuz.

Europe’s most advanced space telescope Gaia, built for the European Space Agency (ESA), will produce a highly accurate 3D map of our galaxy, the Milky Way, and discover and map objects far beyond its boundaries so as to improve our understanding of its origins and evolution. The Gaia mission is also expected to discover hundreds of thousands of unknown celestial objects, including extra-solar planets and failed stars, known as brown dwarfs. And within our solar system, Gaia will be able to identify tens of thousands of asteroids.

Gaia draws on the best in space technology and will carry ultra-modern instruments, including the most sensitive telescope ever made. This cutting-edge equipment draws on unique expertise developed by Airbus Defence and Space in the field of silicon carbide (SiC) telescopes, such as that used for the space telescope on ESA’s Herschel mission, as well as for all the instruments made by Airbus Defence and Space for Earth observation missions.

Through their space programmes, Airbus Defence and Space and its partner Boostec have created a successful new economic sector. The SiC produced in the French Midi-Pyrénées region enables Airbus Defence and Space and its partners to produce exceptional optical payloads for scientific missions and Earth Observation.

“Gaia is an unparalleled space system: the precision of its instruments and its technical conception once again prove Airbus Defence and Space‘s unique expertise in optical payloads,” said Eric Béranger, CEO of Airbus Defence and Space. “Mastering these exceptional technologies enables us to maintain Airbus Defence and Space’s rank as the world leader in the export of Earth observation satellites.”

Gaia will also use a ‘photographic’ sensor of unprecedented accuracy. The precision of the measurements taken by Gaia’s optical instruments will be extremely high. For instance, Gaia would be capable of picking out a strand of hair from a distance of 700 kilometres –the equivalent of the altitude of Earth observation satellites – by using its huge focal plane made up of 106 CCD detectors gathering 1 billion pixels. For its attitude control, the spacecraft will use a cold gas propulsion system with micro-thrusters, enabling it to remain perfectly stable and point with the required extreme accuracy.

Gaia will be located at one of the five Lagrangian points in the Sun-Earth system, at the L2 point. The Lagrangian points in our solar system are points of gravitational balance where a body such as a spacecraft orbits around the Sun at the same rate as Earth, thereby remaining in a fixed position relative to the Earth-Sun line. Located 1.5 million kilometres from Earth, the L2 point is vital for astronomy observation missions, which require high pointing stability.


About Airbus Defence and Space

Together, pioneering excellence

Airbus Defence and Space is the number one company in Europe for space technologies and the second in the world. It is the only global company that covers the full range of civil and defence space systems, equipment and services.

In 2012, Airbus Defence and Space had a turnover over €5.8 billion and 18,000 employees worldwide.

Its three business units are: Airbus Defence and Space, the European prime contractor for launchers, orbital systems and space exploration; Airbus Defence and Space, a leading provider of satellite system solutions, including spacecraft, ground segments, payloads and equipments; Airbus Defence and Space, the Space services partner for critical missions, providing comprehensive fixed and mobile solutions covering secure and commercial satcoms and networks, and bespoke geo-information services, worldwide.

Airbus Defence and Space is a wholly owned subsidiary of AIRBUS Group, a global leader in aerospace, defence and related services. In 2012, the Group – comprising Airbus, Airbus Defence and Space, Cassidian and Eurocopter – generated revenues of €56.5 billion and employed a workforce of over 140,000.

Effective from January 1, 2014, Airbus Defence and Space will be integrated into Airbus Defence and Space together with Airbus Military and Cassidian.


Press contact

Jeremy Close                                                               Tel.: +44 (0)1 438 77 3872