El Satélite


 

Una máquina de descubrimientos

Gaia es uno de los instrumentos más precisos y avanzados tecnológicamente que se han construido nunca para el espacio. Sus dos telescopios están montados en una estructura toroidal de carburo de silicio, resistente al mismo tiempo que ligera. Sus paneles solares proporcionan la energía necesaria para el satélite (poco más de lo que se necesita para un lavavajillas). La instalación de cada elemento en el satélite debe ser extremadamente precisa con el fin de asegurar el éxito de las operaciones durante la misión.

Escaneando el cielo

El principio básico de medida de Gaia es el mismo que el utilizado en la misión Hipparcos (ESA, 1989-1993). Consiste en dos telescopios observando dos direcciones muy separadas en el cielo. Su separación angular (106 grados) tiene que ser conocida con mucha precisión en todo momento. Mientras Gaia gira sobre sí mismo (una vez cada 6 horas), recopila observaciones de estrellas, cubriendo todo el cielo en 6 meses. Comparando la posición de las estrellas en diferentes partes del cielo durante los cinco años de misión, se puede construir un mapa global consistente y preciso. Al final de la misión se habrá observado cada estrella de 40 a 220 veces (70 veces de promedio).

Los ojos de Gaia

Las 106 cámaras CCD (con un total de casi 1000 millones de píxeles) son las responsables de detectar la luz de las estrellas que llega a los dos telescopiosTodas las CCD se montan en el plano focal más grande jamás construido para una misión espacial (104 x 42 cm). Tres tipos diferentes de CCD se utilizan con el fin de obtener la astrometría, la espectrofotometría en azul (BP) y rojo (RP) y la espectroscopia de alta resolución de cada objeto observado.

Gaia en números

Masa: 2030 Kg
Diámetro del parasol: 11 metros
Longitud focal: 35 metros
Espejos primarios: 1.45 x 0.5 metros
Número de espejos: 10
Número de CCD: 106
Numero de pixeles por CCD: 4500 x 1966 pixeles
Número total de pixeles: 938 Megapíxeles
Tamaño de píxel: 10 x 30 micrómetros
Tamaño angular píxel: 59 x 177 milisegundos de arco
Consumo de energía: 1720 W
Vida útil: 5 años
Coste: 700 millones de euros

 

El campo astrométrico

En el plano focal de Gaia las primeras dos bandas de CCD se dedican a la detección de las fuentes (Sky Mapper), otras 9 bandas de CCD se dedican a medir la posición y el brillo de las estrellas en el cielo con mucha precisión. El movimiento de giro de Gaia hace que la imagen de una estrella transite a través de las diferentes CCD, recogiendo más y más luz.

Espectrofotómetros BP (azul) y RP (rojo)

Dos columnas de CCD en el plano focal se dedican a detectar la luz de las estrellas después de pasar a través de dos prismas diferentes (una produce un espectro en el rango azul y el otro en el rango rojo). Estos espectros de baja resolución se utilizan para derivar los parámetros astrofísicos (temperatura, gravedad superficial, composición, …) de los objetos observados por Gaia.

La luz de las estrellas, cuando entra en los prismas, se divide en diferentes colores, produciendo una especie de arco iris con muchos colores, llamado espectro. Dependiendo de los parámetros físicos de las estrellas (como su temperatura, la gravedad y la metalicidad), estos espectros serán más brillantes en determinados colores. Esto nos ayudará, por tanto, a reconocer las propiedades físicas de las observaciones.

GOGspectra

 

Espectrógrafo de velocidades radiales (RVS)

En Gaia también se incluye un espectrógrafo de alta resolución para medir la velocidad de un objeto observado acercándose o alejándose de nosotros (velocidad radial). Esto se puede hacer utilizando el efecto de este movimiento radial en las líneas espectrales (efecto Doppler). La luz de una estrella contiene algunas líneas oscuras debido a la presencia de elementos presentes en su atmósfera. Las posiciones en los espectros de estas líneas cambiarán si la estrella se mueve con respecto a nosotros. Si la línea se desplaza al rojo (redshift) indica que el objeto astronómico se está distanciando de nosotros. Por el contrario, si el objeto se está moviendo hacia nosotros, las líneas espectrales sufrirán un desplazamiento hacia el azul (blueshift).

 

Gestión de los datos abordo y comunicaciones

Hay siete unidades de procesamiento de vídeo (VPU) a bordo de Gaia, que contienen cada uno 3 procesadores PowerPC (para una redundancia triple)  lo que sitúa la carga útil de Gaia entre los sistemas de computación más potentes a bordo de un satélite científico. Se detectarán, procesarán y comprimirán  las imágenes de los objetos medidos a través de los sensores CCD de Gaia, generando más de 5 Mbps de promedio.

 

 

La memoria de abordo (alrededor de 100 GB) almacena estos datos hasta que se establezca contacto con una estación en Tierra, lo que ocurre durante 8 horas cada día de promedio. Los requisitos de estabilidad a bordo de Gaia son tan estrictos que una antena parabólica normal daría lugar a vibraciones inaceptables, y por lo tanto se requiere una antena de control de fase especial (“phased array antenna”).

 

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