The European Space Agency, ESA’s has a flagship mission to study the Sun. The mission is being conducted in collaboration with NASA of USA. It will be the closest that a man-made observer has been to the Sun. The man component of this mission is the Solar Orbiter which has been designed, developed and built by Airbus. The Solar Orbiter is being tested since October 2018 and is now on its way to Cape Canaveral for the launch. The Solar Orbiter will orbit the Sun for approximately eight years at a distance of 42 Million Kms which is closer than the distance between the Sun and Mercury.
The Solar Orbited has been designed to survive high temperatures due to proximity to the Sun. It has to endure sunlight thirteen times more intense than those faced by satellites orbiting the Earth. It has to protect its sensors, computers and equipment from high energy Coronal Mass Ejections which are capable of disrupting electrical power distribution systems, crashing computers, damaging satellites and endangering astronauts. While protecting all its systems and equipment, the Solar Orbiter shall establish an elliptical path around the sun in such a manner that it will be able to perform long-duration observations of the same region of the Sun’s surface, and have visibility of the Sun’s polar regions.
The heat shield developed for the Solar Orbiter and new high-temperature solar array technology are key to its operational success. The Solar Orbiter will make a complex series of gravitational-assist fly-bys past Earth and Venus for raising its orbit above the poles of the Sun. The Solar Orbiter will observe the Sun from an elliptic orbit around it, and provide scientific data to better understand the mechanisms on the Sun that cause violent and disruptive outbursts of Coronal Mass Ejection.
“Solar Orbiter has been one of the most challenging and exciting missions we have ever designed and built here at Stevenage. Sending it so close to the Sun means that some parts of the spacecraft have to withstand temperatures of more than 500°C with others in permanent shadow down to a nippy -180°C. To ensure the very sensitive instruments can measure the Sun’s fields and particles, the spacecraft itself must be totally invisible to its sensors, which has pushed us to the absolute limits of what is technically achievable,” said Eckard Settelmeyer, Airbus’ Head of Earth Observation, Navigation and Science Institutional Satellite Projects.