We should all know by now that Gaia is destined to study the motions and locations of 1 billion stars, but did you know that in order to achieve this goal, the precise location of the spacecraft itself is needed to an extremely high precision?
In addition to the expert tracking methods utilised by ESA's mission operations team at ESOC, ground- based observatories also provide important data.
Enter GBOT, the Ground Based Orbit Tracking campaign that utilises a network of small-to-medium telescopes aiming at doing just that. In fact, GBOT is committed to deliver one set of data per day, which allows the determination of Gaia’s position good to 20 micro arcseconds.
GBOT's data on Gaia will be included in the orbit reconstruction performed at ESOC in order to increase the accuracy of this undertaking to a level of 150 m in position and 2.5 mm/s in motion. These tight constraints are needed, to ensure that Gaia’s measurements of the stars and Solar System objects are as accurate as possible.
We – astronomers within the DPAC community – first set up the GBOT project in early 2008 and trialled it on missions already in the same orbital location that Gaia ...