The European Space Agency says it has completed what it calls the largest digital camera ever built for a space mission - a one billion pixel array camera that will help create a three-dimensional picture of the Milky Way Galaxy.
Set to be launched onboard the ESA's galaxy-mapping Gaia mission in 2013, the digital camera was "mosaicked together from 106 separate electronic detectors." ESA says that Gaia's measurements will be so accurate that, if it were on Earth, it could measure the thumbnails of a person on the Moon.
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According to the ESA, the camera was developed by e2v Technologies of Chelmsford, UK and uses rectangular detectors a little smaller than a credit card, each one measuring 4.7x6 cm but thinner than a human hair. The completed mosaic is arranged in seven rows of charge coupled devices (CCDs). The main array comprises 102 detectors dedicated to star detection. Four others check the image quality of each telescope and the stability of the 106.5º angle between the two telescopes that Gaia uses to obtain stereo views of stars.
The 0.5x1.0 m mosaic was assembled at the Toulouse facility of Gaia prime contractor Astrium France. Technicians spent much of May carefully fitting together each CCD package on the support structure, leaving only a 1 mm gap between them.
According to ESA, the Gaia satellite will operate at the Earth-Sun L2 Lagrange point, 1.5 million kilometers behind the earth, when looking from the sun. "As the spinning Gaia's two telescopes sweep across the sky, the images of stars in each field of view will move across the focal plane array, divided into four fields variously dedicated to star mapping, position and motion, color and intensity and spectrometry," the space agency stated.
Gaia is expected to map a billion stars within the Milky Way Galaxy over the course of its five-year mission, charting brightness and spectral characteristics along with their three-dimensional positions and motions.
From the ESA on Gaia's mission:
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