Space probe to reveal secrets of the solar system

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Latest news from the Suffolk Free Press,, @sfpsudbury on Twitter

A Sudbury businessman has this week spoken of his involvement in the European Space Agency’s space probe launch.

ESA launched the Gaia satellite from French Guiana last Thursday, on a five-year mission to map the positions and movement of around one billion objects in our galaxy.

It will uncover tens of thousands of previously unseen objects, including asteroids in our solar system, planets around nearby stars, and exploding stars – supernovas – in other galaxies.

It is hoped the result will be the most detailed map of the Milky Way ever produced, allowing astronomers to determine the origin and the evolution of our galaxy.

Jon Kemp, who lives in Belle Vue Road, works at e2v in Chelmsford, as a business unit manager in the science department.

His company was awarded a 20million Euro contract to design and manufacture 106 image sensors which will act as the “eyes” of the satellite’s camera. The camera is the most powerful ever built and can pick up a human hair from 1,000 miles away.

“The image sensors receive light and turn it into an electronic signal,” said Jon.

The company’s specialist technology skills were sought out as long ago as 1997. “ESA started talking to us before it started building the satellite because it knew this was one of the biggest challenges of the mission,” said Jon.

e2v, based in Waterhouse Lane, had previously supplied two image sensors to the upgrade project for the Hubble spacecraft, so producing 106 for one project was a major undertaking for the firm.

Jon, 35, who has two young daughters, Hannah and Esther, said: “It was not just the quantity that was a big challenge.

“We also had to make sure each one was up to space standards, which means they have to be able to pass radiation, shaking and temperature tests.”

In two weeks, the satellite will be turned on and scientists will know if it has reached its destination. But it will be two years before they get any data back.