Video: Big day for Chelmsford-based e2v as ESA’s Gaia observatory is blasted into space

An illustration of the Gaia space observatory in orbit

An illustration of the Gaia space observatory in orbit - Credit: Archant

The most powerful satellite camera ever built, which features sensors made by Essex-based technology company e2v, has been launched into space.

The £620million Gaia observatory was on board a Soyuz rocket which lifted off from French Guiana this morning, marking the start of a five-year mission to map stars and other objects across the Milky Way galaxy and beyond.

The European Space Agency (ESA) project has been under development for more than 20 years.

At the heart of the observatory is an array of 106 sensors supplied by Chelmsford-based e2v which given its camera a resolution of one billion pixels.

Gaia’s goal is to map the position and movement of around one billion objects in our “home” galaxy with unprecedented accuracy. This total is expected to include tens of thousands of objects previously unseen, including asteroids in our solar system and planets orbiting nearby stars. It will also monitor supernovas - exploing stars - in other galaxies.

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Hans Faulks, general business unit manager for space and astronomy, said today: “We are immensely proud and excited to finally see our image sensors embark on this mission.

“All the hard work, dedication and expertise that has been put into our sensors and into the mission will finally come to fruition. Our products will now play their part in history as we help increase our understanding of our universe.”

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Giuseppe Sarri, project manager of GAIA at the ESA, said: “Gaia continues a European tradition for pioneering astrometry, building on the expertise generated by the first space-based astrometry mission, Hipparcos.

“Gaia will outdo its predecessor in terms of accuracy, limit magnitude and number of objects. It will pinpoint the position of stars with accuracy in the order of 10-300 microarcseconds (10 microarcseconds is the size of ten-cent coin on the Moon, when viewed from Earth). All this is thanks to companies like e2v, who are able to push technology to the extreme.”

Earlier this year, e2v also won an £8.5m contract to deliver imaging sensors for the ESA’s Euclid satellite mission which is expected to launch in 2020 and will survey up to two billion galaxies to provide new insights into the expanding geometry of the universe.

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