BBC runs an article on e2v supplying 106-CCD focal plane for the European Space Observatory Gaia, due for launch in June 2013. Gaia will be sent to an observing location 1.5 million km from Earth, from where it will slowly spin and scan the sky, transferring the data back at 5Mbps speed.
Although 106 CCDs were needed for the final mission, the associated development and test program meant far more CCDs were actually delivered to satellite manufacturer Astrium, which is assembling Gaia in its facilities in Toulouse, France. e2v has worked solidly for more than five years to produce all Gaia's CCDs.
"The total number of flight models and flight spares was actually 130, which is really a significant number when you think that for most of our space programmes we're talking five or six flight devices, maybe 10," explained e2v principal project manager, Roy Steward. "And then of course there were engineering and other models along the way - 44 of those. So, 174 CCDs in total."
The light-sensitive area on each CCD detector measures 45.0mm by 59.0mm, encompassing 1,966 pixels by 4,500 pixels. The slim devices are arranged in rows across a support structure made of silicon carbide, a very light and very stiff material that will not bend or warp when it experiences the temperature extremes of space. Overall, the array covers just under half a square meter and has about 1 billion pixels.
e2v's Gaia project, valued all up at about 20 million euros, has been more than just an interesting challenge. The investments allowed the Chelmsford site produce all the CCDs - buy a new cleanroom space and test equipment - meaning that it is now in a good position to compete for more space business. "Gaia forced the pace and pushed us ahead of the curve," says e2v marketing and applications manager, Jon Kemp.