UK company to build Sun orbiter

Apr 27, 2012
An M9-class solar flare erupts on the Sun's northeastern hemisphere. The European Space Agency has said it had awarded a 300-million-euro contract to a British technology firm to build a satellite to examine the Sun from closer up than any before it.

The European Space Agency said on Friday it had awarded a 300-million-euro ($400 million) contract to a British technology firm to build a satellite to examine the Sun from closer up than any before it.

The , to be built by UK, is due to launch in January 2017 -- coming to within 45 million kilometres (28 million miles) of the Sun -- closer than its nearest planet, Mercury.

Project scientist Daniel Mueller said the satellite, roughly eight cubic metres in size, would have to withstand ten times the solar heat than that on earth.

"The satellite will have to be equipped with a massive heat shield which is about 500 degrees Centigrade (932 degrees Fahrenheit) on the sun-facing side and about room temperature on the back side to protect the sensitive electronics," he said.

The shield would be about 30 centimetres (12 inches) thick, and could be composed either of titanium wrapped in an insulating foil or a carbon-fiber composite.

The spacecraft will examine solar wind, a phenomenon that disrupts .

It will also study the poles to understand how the Sun generates its magnetic field.

The contract with Astrium, a subsidiary of defence giant EADS, is one of the largest ever between the ESA and a UK company, a statement said.

Several European companies will supply parts, while the United States and ESA member states will fund some of the scientific instruments.

"Solar Orbiter is a fantastic mission," said Alvaro Gimenez Canete, ESA director of science and .

"It will help us understand how the Sun, essential to almost all life on Earth, forms the heliosphere (a magnetic 'bubble' surrounding our solar system) and the origin of space wheather, which can have an enormous influence on our modern civilisation."

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User comments : 3

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Graeme
not rated yet Apr 30, 2012
I would suggest getting even closer with a tungsten shield back by carbon foram insultation, it should be able to take a couple of thousand degrees.
Hengine
not rated yet May 03, 2012
Tungsten is very dense and therefore anything you make from it can be very heavy.

It's also difficult to fabricate large structures with it
antialias_physorg
5 / 5 (1) May 03, 2012
Problem is really getting rid of the heat (e.g. the ISS has already more problems cooling itself than heating itself). There's no convection, conduction or advection in space.
There's only radiation by which you can get rid of heat.

Foam is probably not such a good idea, because it slows the transport of heat down (and you want to get it as fast as possible to the back of the craft to start dissipating it).
Foam is only good when you go though an atmosphere (i.e. when you stay in a heated environment and need to protect some central part for a very limited time)

High reflectivity is paramount (anything you reflect you don't need to dissipate). Sattelites usually employ several mylar layers for this purpose.

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