Dec 6th 2016 by gaiaops • 27 Questions • 691 Points
Gaia’s primary objective is to survey one billion stars in our Galaxy and local galactic neighbourhood in order to build the most precise 3D map of the Milky Way and answer questions about its origin and evolution. Gaia is expected to find thousands of planets beyond our Solar System and map hundreds of thousands of asteroids and comets within it. The mission will also reveal tens of thousands of failed stars and supernovae, and will even test Einstein’s famous theory of General Relativity.
The Gaia flight control team work at ESA's ESOC mission control centre, in Darmstadt, Germany. This includes planning all flight activities, monitoring the health and status of the spacecraft, coordinating with the science operations centre at ESA's ESAC Establishment in Spain, scheduling ground station passes, downloading an immense amount of science data each day and generally making sure the satellite performs as expected.
The Gaia spacecraft is unique, with unprecedented dynamic and thermal performance. In ensuring the ambitious goals of this mission are met, the team have dealt with some interesting challenges.
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UPDATE 17:15 CET - Thank you for the excellent questions! We thoroughly enjoyed answering them and we'll take a look back here in the next day or so to see if we can respond to any others that come in. We'll log off now and get back to... Gaia! For more info and news, access http://www.esa.int/gaia
Providing replies for the Gaia AMA are:
- David Milligan - Spacecraft Operations Manager (Flight control team leader) [DM]
Flight control team
- Ed Serpell - Operations engineer (Payload) [ES]
- Jonas Marie - Operations engineer (Attitude & orbit control system) [JM]
- Ran Qedar - Operations engineer (Power & thermal) [RQ]
- Peter Collins - Operations engineer (Data management system, Onboard software maintenance, Ground systems) [PC]
- Jan Kolmas - Young Graduate Trainee (Star tracker) [JK]
- Gary Whitehead – Operations engineer (Telemetry & telecommanding, Mission planning) [GW]
- Ander Martinez De Albeniz (Flight dynamics) [AMA]
- Daniel Scuka, senior editor for spacecraft operations [DS]
- Jose Hernandez - Science Operations Calibration Engineer [JH]
I imagine that working on a project this large involves a lot of boredom while you organize the data. What are the types of moments that cause the most excitement?
Well, just like any job there are indeed days that are not as exciting as others! But in general I am extremely privileged to work at such a great place on such an interesting mission with a bunch of cool people. For me personally the moment of highest excitement was the launch day – in the first few moments after Gaia was separated from the rocket and we waited for the first signal from space, I could literally feel my heart pounding. The whole first year of operations was generally exciting, when we really got to “know” Gaia and how he/she/it (?!) behaves in her environment. Right now our task is about keeping Gaia operating as well as possible and making sure as much data as possible comes to ground to obtain as good a map as possible – and that in itself is an exciting, interesting and challenging thing to do every day! [PC]
The three ESA 35m deep-space stations are explained here: http://www.esa.int/estrack - look for Cebreros, Malargue and New Norcia [DS]
Will Gaia be able to collect information about exoplanet atmospheres and thereby detect signs of possible life (high oxygen concentrations, for example)?
Gaia collects data on any point sources passing across the field of view. If planet nine is bright enough Gaia will see it (it would have to be brighter than around 20.5 mag though and it is theorised to be less than this I understand). For exoplanets there is the astrometric 'wobble' technique and also transits may work. [DM].
Oh wow, that must be awesome. As a future aerospace systems engineer student, I would love to work in a project as complex as Gaia some day. Thanks for your answer!
Well I look forward to meeting you one day in ESOC! Good luck in your studies :-) [PC]
I'm really interested in the Gaia mission as a whole. But, since I live in Spain, I must say I'm curious about what has been the role of the ESAC, could you explain it a little bit? Cheers to everyone involved in the project! :D
ESAC takes care of the science operations, we get the science data daily from the Gaia flight control team and process it as it arrives to verify that the quality of the data is good for science. ESAC is also part of the consortium in charge of doing the data processing (the DPAC) acting as the HUB with 5 other processing centres. Some of the scientific processing like the Astrometric Core Solution are executed at ESAC, we are also involved in aspects related to the calibration of the Gaia instruments. [JH]
On the processing side (there are 6 data processing centres in Europe) and 400 people from research institutions and universities, there are the typical challenges from a large scientific project, communication, funding, working practices but overall things are on good shape and usually the motivation to get the best results possible overcomes the difficulties.[JH]
Just want to say thank you guys for such an amazing mission. The information that comes back from this venture will have benefits that greatly accelerate science. My question is " What has been the most fascinating discovery for the team up to this point?"
I think it is still too early to say, the first release was only a small teaser and gave positions and distances for stars which had been quite well known up to now, still there are already tens of papers based on this data, if I had to pick one thing may be the unexpected usage of the first release data in the determination of the Hubble constant related to the age of our universe, still a lot more will come in the next years. [JH]