Washington: The European Space Agency has unveiled what it calls the largest digital camera ever built for a space mission - a one billion pixel array camera that will serve as the super-sensitive ‘eye’ of its galaxy-mapping Gaia mission.
The camera was mosaicked together from 106 separate electronic detectors.
While the naked human eye can see several thousand stars on a clear night, Gaia will map a billion stars within our own Milky Way galaxy and its neighbours over the course of its five-year mission from 2013, charting their brightness and spectral characteristics along with their three-dimensional positions and motions.
In order to detect distant stars up to a million times fainter than the eye can see, Gaia will carry 106 charge coupled devices (CCDs), advanced versions of chips within standard digital cameras.
Developed for the mission by e2v Technologies of Chelmsford, UK, these rectangular detectors are a little smaller than a credit card, each one measuring 4.7x6 cm but thinner than a human hair.
“The mounting and precise alignment of the 106 CCDs is a key step in the assembly of the flight model focal plane assembly,” said Philippe Gare, ESA’s Gaia payload manager.
Gaia will operate at the Earth–Sun L2 Lagrange point, 1,5 million kilometers behind the earth, when looking from the sun, where Earth’s orbital motion balances out gravitational forces to form a stable point in space.
Gaia’s three-dimensional star map will help to reveal the composition, formation and evolution of the Milky Way, sampling 1pc of our Galaxy’s stars.