Gaia in the UK

Taking the Galactic Census

Gaia in the UK

UK main participants


Institute of Astronomy, hosting the Data Processing Centre (DPCI), Cambridge

Mullard Space Science Laboratory

Edinburgh University

Rutherford Appleton Laboratory

University of Leicester

The Open University




The Cambridge Gaia Data Processing Centre is a part of the front line in processing Gaia’s images, where we also discover many thousands of transient stars and supernovae: these are made immediately available to the public for their participation in our research.

The UK has  major roles in the Gaia mission, both in building the spacecraft and delivering the science. UK industry won some 80m euro of industrial contracts to build Gaia, with leadership roles in building the heart of Gaia, the array of 106 CCDs (e2v), the control avionics (Astrium Stevenage), the critical micro-propulsion system (Astrium Portsmouth)  and a central role in developing the Radial Velocity Spectrometer (Mullard Space Science Laboratory, University College London).  As well as learning how to build this impressive technology, industry benefits from developing new technologies with many planned (training and motivating engineers and scientists) and unforeseen spinoffs.

The UK has a special involvement in delivering Gaia science data ready for analysis by the whole science community through our major roles in the Gaia Data Processing and Analysis Consortium. Gaia data is a huge challenge, with the Gaia images and spectra  being processed and analysed ready for release to the scientific community and public at 6 data centres in Europe. These operate software developed and tested by a consortium of 400 people across Europe, including some 50 people at 6 institutes in the UK. The UK hosts the Cambridge Data Processing Centre, where the Gaia imaging data are processed. These data provide both brightness and position information, which enable the core Gaia science of distances and motions, and also prism spectra (blue and red) for each star which allow derivation of its astrophysical properties. Gaia also has a spectrograph, to measure the radial velocities of at least 100 million stars, delivering their complete 3D positions and 3D velocities. The spectra will be processed at a French data centre, using software the majority of which was developed in the UK at Mullard Space Science Laboratory.

The Cambridge data centre will identify new sources – supernovae, transients, new and interesting variable stars … from Gaia’s video imaging, and publish these immediately for real-science opportunities by schools and amateur astronomers and societies.

Gaia also had an artist in residence. Our artist, Tania Kovats, is linked to the Institute of Astronomy, University of Cambridge. The Residency programme is a project of the North West Cambridge Art Programme. One Billion Objects in Space installation by Tania opened in June 2014 at The Simplex Barn, North West Cambridge Development, Gravel Hill Farm, Madingley Rise, Madingley Road CB3 0FU. The installation was open on Friday, Saturday and Sunday 11-4pm from 6 - 22 June 2014.

Page last updated: 18 July 2023