ESA’s Gaia Star-Mapper To Launch on European Soyuz

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PARIS — A European version of Russia’s Soyuz rocket will launch Europe’s Gaia star-mapping satellite in 2012 under a contract announced Dec. 16, 2009, by the Arianespace launch consortium and the European Space Agency (ESA).

The 2,100-kilogram Gaia will be launched from Europe’s Guiana Space Center spaceport into an orbit at L2, the second Lagrange point, 1.5 million kilometers from Earth, on a five-year mission to create a detailed catalog of stars in the Milky Way.

ESA has budgeted 560 million euros ($805 million) for the Gaia program, including the satellite’s construction, launch and five years of operations. Astrium Satellites is lead contractor for the satellite under a 317 million euro contract signed in May 2006.

The Soyuz vehicle is expected to make its first flight from Europe’s French Guiana spaceport in mid-2010. Arianespace Chief Executive Jean-Yves Le Gall said the Evry, France-based company had signed five contracts in 2009 for European Soyuz launches, bringing to 12 the total of Soyuz-specific launch contracts in Arianespace’s backlog.