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gaia data release 3 documentation

1.1 The Gaia mission

1.1.5 ESA ground segment

Author(s): Jos de Bruijne and Jordi Portell

This section provides an overview of the European Space Agency (ESA) ground segment of the Gaia mission, including the mission management (Section 1.1.5), the operational ground segment responsible for mission and spacecraft operations (Section 1.1.5), the science ground segment responsible for payload and science operations (Section 1.1.5), and the ground stations used in the transmission of the science data to ground (Section 1.1.5).

Mission management

The ESA Gaia mission manager is the overall responsible for the Gaia mission, including the science ground segment, the operational ground segment, and the spacecraft. The Gaia project scientist is responsible for maximising the scientific return of the mission, given the programmatic boundary conditions set by the ESA member states through the science programme committee (SPC). The Gaia science team (GST) is an independent advisory body to ESA for all aspects that are related to the scientific performance and goals of Gaia. The GST is composed of nine members, including the project scientist as chair and the chair of the executive of the data processing and analysis consortium (DPAC; Section 1.2) as ex-officio members. See for the composition of the GST.

Mission operations

Mission operations are conducted from the European Space Agency (ESA) Mission Operations Centre (MOC), located at the European Space Operations Centre (ESOC), Darmstadt, Germany. Mission operations include:

  • mission planning;

  • regular upload of the planning products to the mission time line of Gaia;

  • acquisition and distribution of science telemetry;

  • acquisition, monitoring and analysis, and distribution of health, performance (voltage, current, temperature, etc.), and resources (power, propellant, telemetry and telecommand link budget, etc.) housekeeping data of all spacecraft units;

  • performing and monitoring operational time synchronisation;

  • anomaly investigation, mitigation, and recovery;

  • orbit prediction, reconstruction, monitoring, and control;

  • spacecraft calibrations (e.g., star-tracker alignment, micro-propulsion offset calibration, etc.); and

  • on-board software maintenance.

Details are provided in Gaia Collaboration et al. (2016b).

Science operations

Science operations are conducted from the ESA Science Operations Centre (SOC), located at the European Space Astronomy Centre (ESAC), Madrid, Spain. Science operations include:

  • generating the scanning law, including the associated calibration of the representation of the azimuth of the Sun in the scanning reference system in the VPU software (Section 1.3.3);

  • generating the science schedule, i.e., the predicted on-board data rate according to the operational scanning law and a sky model, to allow for adaptive ground-station scheduling;

  • generating the avoidance file containing time periods when interruptions to science collection would prove particularly detrimental to the final mission products;

  • generating payload operation requests (PORs), i.e., VPU-parameter updates (e.g., TDI-gating scheme or CCD-defect updates; Section 1.3.4);

  • tracking the status and history of payload-configuration parameters in the configuration database (CDB; Section 1.2.3) through the mission time line and telecommand history;

  • hosting the science-telemetry archive;

  • generating event anomaly reports (EARs) to inform downstream processing systems of ‘bad time intervals’, outages in the science data, or any (on-board) events which may have an impact on the data processing and/or calibration;

  • monitoring (and recalibrating as needed) the star-packet-compression performance;

  • monitoring (and recalibrating as needed) the BAM-pattern location inside the readout windows (Figure 4.4);

  • reformatting the optical observations of Gaia received from Gaia’s ground-based optical tracking (GBOT; Section 4.2.2 and Altmann et al. 2014) programme for processing in the orbit reconstruction at the MOC; and

  • disseminating meteorological ground-station data – required for delay corrections in the high-accuracy time synchronisation / on-board clock calibration – from MOC to DPAC (Section 4.1.6).

Details are provided in Gaia Collaboration et al. (2016b).

Ground stations

The use of all three 35-meter deep-space dishes in ESA’s tracking station network (ESTRACK) ensures a high-quality telemetry and telecommand link budget and an optimum science data rate. These stations are located at Malargüe (Argentina), Cebreros (Spain), and New Norcia (Australia) and hence provide (close to) 24-hour coverage. The daily telecommunications period is adjusted to the expected data volume to be down-linked each day. This volume is predicted using a sky model that is based on the Gaia DR1 Catalogue and the operational scanning law. The typical, daily down-link time of 12.5 hours is usually covered by two of the three antennae. In times of enhanced data rates, typically when the scanning law makes Gaia scan along (or at small angles to) the Galactic plane (loosely referred to as a ‘galactic-plane scan’, or GPS), required down-link times increase, up to, and exceeding, the maximum-possible 24 hours per day, which means that three antennae are used sequentially. Table 1.6 summarises all galactic-plane scans relevant for Gaia DR3.

Table 1.6: List of galactic-plane scans (GPSs), including duration and peak data rate. OBMT stands for on-board mission time(line) in units of six-hour revolutions since launch.
Start OBMT End OBMT Start date End date Duration Peak data rate
[days] kB s-1
1584 1596 28-11-2014 01-12-2014 13 1940
1930 1966 23-02-2015 04-03-2015 19 2455
2122 2164 12-04-2015 22-04-2015 11 2334
2810 2834 01-10-2015 07-10-2015 16 1325
3434 3456 05-03-2016 10-03-2016 16 1490
3628 3660 22-04-2016 30-04-2016 18 2039
4026 4048 31-07-2016 05-08-2016 16 1434
4332 4362 15-10-2016 23-10-2016 18 1676
4736 4748 24-01-2017 27-01-2017 13 1090
4936 4956 15-03-2017 20-03-2017 15 1136
5136 5164 04-05-2017 11-05-2017 17 1705

The science data is telemetered to ground in the X-band through the high-gain phased-array antenna using Gaussian minimum-shift keying (GMSK) modulation. Error correction in the down-link telemetry stream is achieved through the use of concatenated convolutional punctured coding. In practice, a 7/8 convolutional encoding rate is used as baseline so that the down-link information data rate (including packetisation and error-correction overheads) is some 8.7 megabits per second. The typical amount of losslessly-compressed science data down-linked to ground is around 40 gigabytes per day. With a typical on-board data compression ratio of 2.5 , this expands to 100 gigabytes of raw, uncompressed data per day.