Animation showing the deployment of Gaia’s sunshade. During launch, the 10 m-wide sunshield is stowed against the spacecraft. Shortly after Gaia separates from its launch vehicle, the sunshield is deployed around the base of the spacecraft. It consists of 12 long rectangular panels covered with multilayer insulation blankets, and 12 triangular sections to fill in the gaps.
The shield has two purposes: to shade Gaia’s sensitive telescopes and cameras, keeping them cool at a stable temperature below –100ºC, and to provide power to operate the spacecraft. Gaia will always point away from the Sun, so the underside of the skirt is covered with solar panels to generate electricity.