Halfway between the Caribbean Sea and the Amazonian rain forest, French Guiana offers amazing nature and some incredible photo opportunities. But trying to find the best views will have you wandering around under the scorching tropical Sun. How about carrying with you a good old beach umbrella to protect yourself from the burning Sun while keeping an unobstructed sight of the landscape around you?

Now, think about a large beach umbrella. And I mean a really large one. To be precise 10.5 metres in diameter, with a surface area of 90 square metres. That’s almost the size of half a tennis court, or an area large enough to park three passenger buses! Then imagine that you want to launch it into space and take it on a one-and-a-half-million-kilometre journey. In addition to properly protecting you from the Sun, you would like it to be light, and you would like to be able to fold it somehow so as to pack it nicely. Well, not exactly your average beach umbrella, right?  These are some of the challenges posed by the requirements of the Gaia sunshield and some high-tech solutions are required to tackle them.

Opening the Deployable Sunshield Assembly container

Opening the Deployable Sunshield Assembly container

The design and manufacturing of the sunshield is under the responsibility of SENER in Spain. The thermal blankets are provided by RUAG Aerospace Austria and the carbon fibre frames come from RUAG Aerospace Switzerland. During the next month the activities of the Gaia launch campaign in Kourou will be devoted mostly to the sunshield, and will see the engineers from SENER working together with the Astrium team to assemble, check and prepare the sunshield for flight.

The first step of the sunshield activities was opening the transport container to take the sunshield out. The structural skeleton is transported by itself, without the thermal blankets. That’s how you saw it in one of our previous posts. The next steps are mounting this naked frame on the spacecraft and setting up the gravity compensation jig in preparation for the deployment. How is this all done? Stay tuned for more details coming soon!

by Daniel Escolar, Gaia Mechanical engineer, reporting from Kourou.