, Volume 341, Issue 1, pp 31-41
Date: 10 Mar 2012

Science performance of Gaia, ESA’s space-astrometry mission

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Abstract

Gaia is the next astrometry mission of the European Space Agency (ESA), following up on the success of the Hipparcos mission. With a focal plane containing 106 CCD detectors, Gaia will survey the entire sky and repeatedly observe the brightest 1,000 million objects, down to 20th magnitude, during its 5-year lifetime. Gaia’s science data comprises absolute astrometry, broad-band photometry, and low-resolution spectro-photometry. Spectroscopic data with a resolving power of 11,500 will be obtained for the brightest 150 million sources, down to 17th magnitude. The thermo-mechanical stability of the spacecraft, combined with the selection of the L2 Lissajous point of the Sun-Earth/Moon system for operations, allows stellar parallaxes to be measured with standard errors less than 10 micro-arcsecond (μas) for stars brighter than 12th magnitude, 25 μas for stars at 15th magnitude, and 300 μas at magnitude 20. Photometric standard errors are in the milli-magnitude regime. The spectroscopic data allows the measurement of radial velocities with errors of 15 km s−1 at magnitude 17. Gaia’s primary science goal is to unravel the kinematical, dynamical, and chemical structure and evolution of the Milky Way. In addition, Gaia’s data will touch many other areas of science, e.g., stellar physics, solar-system bodies, fundamental physics, and exo-planets. The Gaia spacecraft is currently in the qualification and production phase. With a launch in 2013, the final catalogue is expected in 2021. The science community in Europe, organised in the Data Processing and Analysis Consortium (DPAC), is responsible for the processing of the data.