06 Jun 2012
Satellite to get close to the sun
The Paris-based European Space Agency has signed a contract with Astrium UK to build Solar Orbiter, a spacecraft that will travel closer to the sun than any satellite to date. Scheduled for launch in 2017, it will take pictures and measurements of the sun from inside the orbit of Mercury, to gain new insights on what drives the sun’s dynamic behaviour. The contract is worth £245 million, and the work will be done in Stevenage and Portsmouth.
Ralph Cordey, the head of science at Astrium UK, said: “Heat will be a huge problem. If it were not protected, the face of the spacecraft would get as hot as 500°C, which would be disastrous. We will use a thick heat-shield to reduce the temperature within the spacecraft to about room temperature, so that all the electronics can operate comfortably.”
Solar Orbiter is a joint venture between the European Space Agency and the US space agency NASA. The latter will supply one instrument, a sensor and the rocket to send the satellite on its way.