Finally, a new launch date for the Gaia satellite mission was set by ESA and Arianespace. After the intensive search for available options the best solution was found after discussions will all parties involded. The latter are ESA, Arianespace, Astrium, CNES, SES, HISPASAT and Orbital Sciences Corporation.
You may wonder why so many companies and organizations are involved. Well, this is because the solution found includes advancing the launch of an Ariane 5 ECA (VA216) planned for December 13 by one week to December 6. Advancing one launch is close to a miracle, especially for an Ariane 5 transporting not one but two communications satellites into space. One passenger of Ariane 5 flight VA216 will be the ASTRA 5B communications satellite of the SES company built By Astrium. The second payload is called Amazonas 4A and belongs to the Spanish satellite operator HISPASAT. It is built by the US company Orbital Sciences Corporation. Both satellites are now expected to arrive at the European spaceport in Kourou during the next two weeks to start their preparations for the launch now planned on December 6.
This advanced Ariane 5 launch date will allow to launch Gaia two weeks later after the range equipment (mainly radar) of the European spaceport Kourou was changed from the setup used for Ariane 5 launches to the one necessary for Soyuz-Fregat launches. Thus, the newly set Gaia launch date is December 20, 2013.
Here is the official announcement of Arianespace: http://www.arianespace.com/news-press-release/2013/10-29-2013-VA216-VS06.asp
A personal comment: A launch date around Christmas has obviously some drawbacks. Some people will not have Christmas holidays. Others need to delay Christmas holidays. For the public outreach the situation will be complicated. It will be hard to inspire the youth as schools and universities will be closed. Well, maybe ESA should add some Christmas symbols on the fairing of the launcher to attract some more attention in this special Christmas time. Who is paying for that – well, I may have an idea. Sarcasm off! 😉
We appreciate that the launch is not delayed further. There would have been some real potential for a big delay we know.
Update: The launch time on December 20 is 09:08:13.7 GMT according to http://www.rssd.esa.int/index.php?project=GAIA&page=index .
Note: The idea to have some Christmas related painting on the payload fairing may not be as strange as you might think – have a look here showing the payload fairing for next manned Soyuz launch to the ISS: https://twitter.com/Astro_Wakata/status/394813873766686720