Summary of Gaia news during recent days

Sorry for not posting more about the Gaia mission during recent weeks. I just did not find the time for it as there was and is still is a lot  of work to be done during the process of commissioning and performance verification for all persons involved. To give a more or less complete overview about things related to the Gaia mission here on this site I would like to summarize the latest news here and now. Here we go:

1.) A sky map/movie was released showing all the regions in the sky already scanned by Gaia during the recent five months. This movie was produced by the @GaiaUB team (with a small involvement from me ;)) and published jointly by ESA, DPAC and Airbus DS – as all publications made during the joint commissioning phase. If you have not seen it yet here it is:

2.) First spectroscopic observations of Gaia were published. The @GaiaUB team contributed also to this publication. You can find it here at the ESA Gaia blog:

3.) And finally, there is a new blog entry in the ESA Gaia blog giving an official, very up-to-date status update, discussing issue like stray light, contamination and variations of the basic angle (the angle between both telescopes of Gaia) and their influences on the scientific measurements. Please read the blog entry here: .


The launch of Gaia – as followed from ESOC


Our group from the GaiaUB team with the 1:4 Gaia model at the ESOC launch event in Darmstadt, Germany.

A group of four scientists from the Gaia team of the Universitat de Barcelona (short GaiaUB) followed the invitation of ESA to watch the launch of the Gaia spacecraft from the European Space Operations Centre (ESOC) in Darmstadt, Germany. It was a real pleasure to share this event with many other scientists, engineers and journalists from all over Europe. The event started about one our before the launch. The ex-astronaut Thomas Reiter, now ESA Director of Human Spaceflight and Operations, was the first speaker welcoming the audience and giving an overview of the Gaia mission as one important part of the general ESA stategy to support science and development of new technologies. Mark McCaughrean from ESA was giving an enthusiastic talk about the working principle of Gaia and the science that can be done with the data expected to begin to arrive in the next few weeks. The general director of ESA, Jean-Jacques Dordain, was giving a short statement from ESA headquarters in Paris via telecon. Finally, Jean Dauphin from EADS Astrium outlined that it was a pleasure and a challenge to build the Gaia spacecraft.


Moment of liftoff of the Soyuz-Fregat carrying Gaia into orbit as seen at the ESOC launch event

Then, the launch transmission from Kourou, produced by Arianespace, was beginning. Most likely you have seen the videos already. If not, here is the full transmission: or the short highlight version: We were following step by step of the launch sequence. You could real feel the tension of the entire audience in the air. What a beautiful launch – the most impressive one of a Soyuz from Kourou so far! After several days with rain in Kourou a large gap had opened in the clouds allowing the follow the liftoff even after booster separation!


Nic Walton of the IoA Cambridge during his enthusiastic performance at the ESOC stage. What a passion!

During the coast phase and the second long burn of the engine of the Fregat upperstage some scientists involved in the mission were expressing their excitement about the launch and the mission at the ESOC stage, among them Sergei Klioner from the Dresden university, Nic Walton from the IoA Cambridge and Uli Bastian from the ARI Heidelberg.

Finally, the successful separation of Gaia from the Fregat upperstage was confirmed from the control room in the building nearby as well as the first radio contact with the satellite after launch. An intensive applause started and you could feel the tension to go down. Gaia was on its way to L2, almost.


Successful deployment of the sunshield confirmed as seen on the monitors of ESOC

Some critical operations needed to be performed first including the deployment of the 11m diameter sunshield. We could watch on monitors the work going on in the control room. About 1.5 hours after liftoff it was announced that the sunshield was opened successfully – Mission ON! What a relief for everybody! Now the celebration was really beginning with champagne and a buffet.


Look into the mission control room of the Gaia spacecraft at ESOC a few hours after launch

Later on we had the luck to be able to have a look into the mission control room of the Gaia mission. This was another emotional moment knowing that Gaia will be operated from here during the years of operations to come. Many thanks to the person allowing this close look not completely in agreement with the rules set.

I have to express my thankfulness for being allowed to take part in this fantastic event! This is something I will always remember. Thanks to ESA, Arianespace, Astrium and CNES to make this dream come true after all these years of hard work. And many thanks to our Russian friends providing this fantastic Soyuz-Fregat launcher. We have to be thankful to all persons that were helping to make this launcher to work properly, from the last person how touched the Soyuz and back to the person who has constructed the basic version of this launcher in the 1950s – Sergei Korolev. Thank you, merci beaucoup, spasibo!

Update: A series of photos from this event is now available here: You will need to be logged in into Facebook to see it. Sorry for this issue!

Update 07/01/2014: The entire launch event at ESOC can now be watched on YouTube at:

Launch fever anyone? ;)


T-7 days and counting. At the Universitat de Barcelona  we have countdown clocks almost everywhere. And these are counting down, second by second, minute by minute, hour by hour. It is getting really serious now with the launch of Gaia. Every single progress statement from the European spaceport Kourou, official or unofficial, is awaited eagerly. The news are distributed with twitter, Facebook, emails, …. People are talking about it on the floors. You can feel the excitement rising day by day.

Many of us have spent several years already working for the Gaia satellite project. A few colleagues were already contributing to the very first studies for a successor of the Hipparcos satellite in the mid-90s. A few days ago I had my seventh anniversary working for the project. Now in a few days the Gaia will be launch and the real space mission will start. Exciting times.

Many of my colleagues are now interested in all aspects about the launch. Questions are f.e. how safe the launcher is or if it is not too early to drop the payload fairing a little bit more than three minutes after the lift off. I am a little bit of an “expert” for these kind of questions. As a kid I was growing up with the first missions of the Space Shuttle. I followed every mission even during the night by radio – AFN (American Forces Network) was distributing the information all over in Germany. Interesting stories were told – orbiting satellites or retrieving them, untethered spacewalks, the Spacelab science missions. It seemed to be very realistic as a mixture of many successes and small failures were reported. Then the big failure happened – the Challenger disaster. A few months later there was Chernobyl. During these months I lost my believe that technology alone can make really everything possible. Before these events I was undecided if I want to considering a career as engineer or as a scientist. The events helped me to decide to study physics. With the overdose of the classic Star Trek taken during my early childhood the main direction of my study was also clear – it had to be Astrophysics. Oops, it seems to be I am a bit off topic here – sorry for that.


After the launch of the final Space Shuttle mission STS-135 at the Kennedy Space Center.

I continued to follow all the Shuttle missions and other spaceflight events. I have watched several hundreds of space launches on TV, and one live – the final launch of the Space Shuttle on the STS-135 in July 2011 from the Kennedy Space Center. A dream was coming true.

As a “space geek” with “my launch experience” I am still calm at the moment. But I think that this will change in the coming days. It really should change! Working several years for a satellite project ties the connection with it a bit more than usual I think. Probably when the countdown clocks will show only a few hours left the launch fever will have infected me, too. 😉 Exciting times, indeed.

Final practice run before the important Gaia Soyuz-Fregat launch


As you know there will one important launch later this year – the launch of Gaia by a Soyuz-Fregat rocket from the European spaceport in Kourou, planned for December 19. For us there will be another important rocket launch a few days later – on December 23. Assuming that the weather cooperates a Soyuz-Fregat model will be launched just a few minutes before the premiere of the new planterium show “Journey to a billion suns”. This movie is dedicated to the Gaia mission and will take you through time and history, explain basic technologies of star mapping. It will take you on a fascinating journey along the numerous features of our Milky Way. The premiere of the show will be held at the planetarium of the Centre d’ Observació de l’ Univers (COU) near Ager in Catalonia with several guests from science and politics. Normally I would do this launch but unfortunately I will not be able to attend.

But we found a very good solution. As you may know we had a few launches with the Gaia Universitat de Barcelona (UB) including a live transmission of launches. Thus, some members of the team have already some experience with these kind of stuff. The most experienced one, Josep Manel, volunteered to perform this important model launch at the show premiere. We decided to practice a bit, and as the weather was perfect last weekend, Josep Manel did perform a real Soyuz-Fregat model launch:

Everything went very smoothly, no issues at all. It was a nice family event under a picture-perfect blue sky.

By the way, this was our first launch of a Soyuz-Fregat model showing the Gaia launch fairing. The design of the logo was just published one week ago by ESA. Lucky me that I did not had to perform the launch. Being a little bit superstitious I promised to myself not to perform a launch with model showing the Gaia logo before the real launch of Gaia. I kept my promise. 😉

More about these model rocket activities you can find in this section:

Gaia news flash #9


1.) Today the design of the fairing logo for the Gaia launch was revealed by ESA in the official ESA Gaia blog showing a girl pointing to the stars among other things. It looks like a drawing by a kid, and actually it is exactly that. Please read the interesting story here:

Everybody seems to like this design. Hopefully it is inspiring many kids to have some more looks into the night sky and eventually setting the basis for wishing to start a future career in science or related topics.

Our team at the Universitat the Barcelona was displaying the fairing logo on one of our Soyuz-Fregat models during the our press event yesterday as you can see in the image below. For more details about this event see my blog post from yesterday.


Model display at the press event of the Universitat de Barcelona

The journalist really liked the design of the logo and thus it got some short TV appearances in Spain already.

As often I have a crazy idea. Could one of the stars converted into a comet by adding a tail? Comet ISON made some nice headlines during recent weeks. And a comet is also a good connection to the Christmas story for a launch almost on Christmas. The logos are printed already I know. Changes are impossible. But I heard that there is a tradition that staff at the launch base is signing the fairing of Russian launchers before launch. This may be a good opportunity to add a tail to one of the stars on logo! Kourou staff can you hear me? 😉

More details about the logo and its appearances in different forms in Kourou you can read in this blog post:

Personal remark: I got aware of this logo by being told that the logo with the girl will be used for the fairing. At that point I had not seen this logo yet and was thinking more on a more traditional logo like that: But I like the progress made during the last decades! 😉

2.) There is a very interesting blog post about the transfer of Gaia to the next processing facility in Kourou. In different images and videos you can see almost all details about this transport to the fueling facility. The fueling operations are underway these days. Please have a look on this phantastic article here:

Update:  There is now an English version of this post published on the official ESA Gaia blog:

Gaia news flash #4


1.) Euronews has published an impressive video report outlining the prospects and goals of the Gaia satellite mission of the European Space Agency (ESA). Several managers and scientists (including my boss Carme Jordi) are interviewed to explain the discovery machine that Gaia will become in the near future. There are video versions in several languages available. Here are the most common ones:








2.) There is no new launch date for Gaia fixed yet. As I was told the talks between all companies and organizations involved are ongoing. There are more parties involded in the talks than you might think. Stay tuned for updates.

Gaia news flash #3

1.) The ESA Operations section has published a very interesting article how Gaia will be operated after its launch from the European spaceport in Kourou. It gives a different perspective than usual about operating a satellite mission. Please read the article here:

2.) ESA has also updated its photo series about the Gaia launch campaign. Please see the latests shots showing Gaia back in launch configuration after the successful test of the sunshield here:

3.) CNES is even showing more photos in its updated photo series about the launch processing of Gaia in Kourou. Please have a look here:

4.) Some personal thoughts about the launch delay of Gaia: It is very positive that the potential problems with the transponders of Gaia were detected before the launch. A lot of the scientific data to be collected could have been lost otherwise. This delay of the launch is a small price to pay to avoid that loss. All involved in the project are looking forward that the problems are solved soon and a new launch date can be confirmed. The next available launch window extends from December 17 to January 5. We are optimistic that Gaia will be technically ready to go at the start of this launch window. Most likely, the Ariane 5 launch with two communications satellites planned for December will launch before Gaia simply by the fact that an Ariane 5 ECA launch (VA216) is of much more value for Arianespace than a launch of small Soyuz-Fregat rocket. Arianespace is a commercial company in the end. There has been several launch delays this year already: the ATV-4 launch, the second O3B launch and some communications satellites were not ready to go in time. Now there is the delay of the Gaia launch. For the financial balance of 2013 is will be important for Arianespace to have at least the launch of this VA216 Ariane 5 in the books. And if the launch of Gaia can also be added it will even be better. Thus, let us hope for a successful Ariane 5 launch in early/mid December and a Gaia launch around Christmas time. Can there be a better time than Christmas to start a new adventure like the Gaia mission?