MOSCOW, December 19. /ITAR-TASS/. A Russian carrier rocket Soyuz-ST with an acceleration unit Fregat-MT and spacecraft Gaia is due to be launched from the Kourou spaceport in French Guiana on Thursday, an official at the European Space Agency (ESA) mission here told Itar-Tass.
"The spacecraft Gaia is an optical space telescope that will make it possible to draw up a detailed map of the distribution of stars in the Milky Way," the ESA official pointed out.
"The liftoff of the Soyuz-ST is scheduled for 06:12, local time (13:12, Moscow time). The separation of the main stage -- Fregat-MT with the European space telescope will come about nine minutes later, at 06:21 (13:21)," the space agency official specified. "The spacecraft Gaia will separate from the acceleration unit in 43 minutes' time after the launch, at 06:54 (13:54)," the space official added.
Following that, the space telescope will travel to Lagrange Point (L2) of the Sun-Earth system. The L2 is located at a distance of 1.5 million km from the Earth in the opposite direction from the Sun. It will take the Gaia about one month to reach the L2. The telescope will revolve around the L2 with a period of 180 days; the parameters of its orbit will be 340,000 by 90,000 km. The Gaia will unfold a screen protecting its optical devices from solar radiation. Besides, the Earth will partially shield the telescope from sunlight.
The Gaia has been made by the EADS Astrium Company under an order placed by the ESA. Its estimated time of functioning in space is five years. The telescope is designed to compile a three-dimensional map of the Milky Way. Astronomers also expect to discover about 10,000 exoplanets by means of the telescope Gaia.