MOSCOW, December 19 (RIA Novosti) – An ambitious European space telescope has separated successfully from its Russian launch vehicle and started moving towards its working orbit 1.5 million kilometers above Earth, the Russian Space Agency, Roscosmos, said.
The $549 million Gaia observatory was launched on board a Russian Soyuz-ST-B with a Fregat booster from the Kourou space center in French Guiana at 13:12 Moscow time (09:12 GMT) Wednesday.
“The separation of the European space telescope from the Fregat booster has been confirmed,” the agency said.
Designed and built by Astrium for the European Space Agency, the satellite is fitted with a billion-pixel camera to create an accurate 3D map of our galaxy by measuring the precise distances to a billion stars and tracking their movements through space.
Scientists hope the data will help them to determine the origin and evolution of our galaxy.
Gaia, which has been in development for over 20 years, will also catalogue hundreds of thousands of space objects in our solar system, including asteroids and comets, during its five-year mission.
In addition, the space observatory will help scientists discover new exoplanets – planets with Earth-like properties beyond our solar system that could harbor life.
“It’s an amazing thing, a completely new type of an observatory in orbit,” said Vladimir Surdin, an astronomer from the Moscow State University. He added that the the data gathered by Gaia would be analyzed for decades.