14 September 2016
14. September 2016 Defence

Airbus Defence and Space’s Gaia spacecraft delivers data on 1.1 billion stars

The Milky Way blazes above the European Southern Observatory (ESO) facilities at Mount Paranal in northern Chile’s Atacama Desert. Paranal hosts the world’s most advanced ground-based astronomical observatory, the Very Large Telescope (VLT), and is home to two new telescopes for large imaging surveys currently under construction, the VLT Survey Telescope (VST) and the Visible and Infrared Survey Telescope for Astronomy (VISTA). Both are expected to “take up duty” in the 2009-2010 timeframe.  This photograph shows an edge-on view of the Milky Way’s glowing plane slicing across the night sky, laced by bands of dust and dark gas. Taken with a digital camera using a three-minute exposure, the photograph also reveals a bit of action on the ground. To the left, a vehicle with its parking lights on stops lets out a passenger. Though bathed by the light of the Milky Way, the high-altitude desert remains quite dark. To illuminate the rightward path to the underground entrance ramp of the ‘Residencia’, where staff and visitors stay, the passenger takes along a small flashlight, seen as a squiggly bright line. In the lower right, the glass dome on the Residencia’s roof reflects the starry sky overhead. One of our Milky Way’s galactic satellites, the Large Magellanic Cloud, is seen hanging above the Residencia in the lower right corner of the image.

- Gaia’s ultra-stable silicon carbide platform has enabled accurate mapping of 1.6 billion stars with 1.1 billion published today - Precision optical instrument could pick out a human hair at 700 km - Cold gas micro-propulsion system keeps Gaia ultra-stable as it orbits Lagrange point L2

The Airbus Defence and Space built Gaia spacecraft has mapped more than 1.6 billion stars thanks to its ultra-stable platform, with data on the positions and intensity of 1.1 billion stars published today.

 Gaia, for the European Space Agency, has been mapping the universe since its launch on a Soyuz rocket in December 2013. Its mission is to carry out a far reaching census of our Milky Way galaxy. As the spacecraft spins it tracks huge numbers of stars simultaneously whilst maintaining near-perfect control of its attitude in space. Its micro-propulsion system can make precise adjustments using its thrusters to keep the satellite correctly aligned – it would need 1,000 of these micro-thrusters on Earth to lift a single sheet of paper.

 At the heart of spacecraft is the video processing unit which has more processing power than any other ESA spacecraft. Gaia’s data is received at ESA’s 35 metre diameter radio dishes in Cebreros, Spain, and New Norcia, Australia.

 “Today’s results will open up a new era in astronomy – a huge increase in precise data that will inform astronomers about the dynamics and origin of our galaxy and about hundreds of thousands of new objects in our solar system and beyond. All the engineers and technicians who designed and built Gaia at Airbus Defence and Space can be extremely proud,” said Nicolas Chamussy, Head of Space Systems at Airbus Defence and Space.

 This release of data from Gaia builds upon and dramatically improves upon the results of ESA’s first astrometry mission, Hipparcos, launched in 1989, and also developed by Airbus Defence and Space.

Links to animation and footage of the spacecraft being built:



About Airbus Defence and Space

Airbus Defence and Space, a division of Airbus Group, is Europe’s number one defence and space enterprise and the second largest space business worldwide. Its activities include space, military aircraft and related systems and services. It employs more than 38,000 people and in 2015 generated revenues of over 13 billion Euros.

Press contacts:

Jeremy Close
+ 44 14 38 77 38 72

Ralph Heinrich
+49 89 3179 9797

Mathias Pikelj
+ 49 75 45 89 123

Francisco Lechón
+ 34 91 586 37 41


Frontier Airlines selects Skywise Health Monitoring as future fleet performance tool


Mixed Fleet Flying for A380 and A320 approved by Japan’s Civil Aviation Bureau


Airbus highlights latest capabilities and partnerships at ADEX 2021

Back to top