To achieve the ambitious scientific objectives of the Gaia mission, extremely stringent performance requirements have been given to the spacecraft contractor (Airbus Defence and Space). For a set of those key-performance requirements (e.g. end-of-mission parallax, maximum detectable magnitude, maximum sky density or attitude control system stability), this paper describes how they are engineered during the whole spacecraft development process, with a focus on the end-to-end performance verification. As far as possible, performances are usually verified by end-to-end tests onground (i.e. before launch). However, the challenging Gaia requirements are not verifiable by such a strategy, principally because no test facility exists to reproduce the expected flight conditions. The Gaia performance verification strategy is therefore based on a mix between analyses (based on spacecraft models) and tests (used to directly feed the models or to correlate them). Emphasis is placed on how to maximize the test contribution to performance verification while keeping the test feasible within an affordable effort. In particular, the paper highlights the contribution of the Gaia Payload Module Thermal Vacuum test to the performance verification before launch. Eventually, an overview of the in-flight payload calibration and in-flight performance verification is provided.