Image: The sunshield for ESA's Solar Orbiter

May 8, 2014
Solar Orbiter sunshield. Credit: ESA-Anneke Le Floc'h

( —Members of ESA's Solar Orbiter team watch expectantly as an essential part of the spacecraft is lowered into Europe's largest vacuum chamber: the multi-layered shield that will protect their probe from the Sun's remorseless glare. 

This of the sunshield, sandwiched together from of titanium and outermost carbon coating, was placed in the 15 m-high and 10 m-diameter Large Space Simulator at ESA's Technical Centre, ESTEC, in Noordwijk, the Netherlands, on 2 May.

Solar Orbiter, due for launch in 2017, will carry a portfolio of instruments for high-resolution imaging of our parent star from as close as 42 million km – a little more than a quarter of the distance to Earth.

Operating in direct view of the Sun, the mission must endure 13 times the intensity of terrestrial sunlight and temperatures rising as high as 520°C.

The main body of the spacecraft will therefore be huddled behind a multi-layered 3.1 m by 2.4 m sunshield, with the circular holes for cameras to peep through, many behind protective glass or beryllium.

The question is, can the sunshield keep up the insulating performance the Solar Orbiter mission and its sensitive instruments demand?

As its crucial test begins, all air will be extracted to produce space-quality vacuum, while the chamber walls are pumped with –190°C liquid nitrogen to mimic the extreme cold of deep space.

Then the light from 19 xenon lamps, each consuming 25 kW, will be tightly focused by mirrors into a concentrated beam of artificial sunlight upon the sunshield for a number of days.

The roof of the Simulator can be seen in the left-hand background of the image, ready to slide into place to seal the chamber for testing. 

Explore further: ESA's Mercury mapper feels the heat

Related Stories

ESA's Mercury mapper feels the heat

January 18, 2011

Key components of the ESA-led Mercury mapper BepiColombo have been tested in a specially upgraded European space simulator. ESA's Large Space Simulator is now the most powerful in the world and the only facility capable of ...

Tests under way on the sunshield for Webb telescope

September 19, 2011

NASA is testing an element of the sunshield that will protect the James Webb Space Telescope's mirrors and instruments during its mission to observe the most distant objects in the universe.

Gaia spreads its wings

December 8, 2011

( -- ESA’s Gaia star-mapper has passed a critical test ahead of its launch in 2013: the spacecraft’s sunshield has been deployed for the first time.

Video: The Webb Space Telescope's sunshield

December 12, 2013

The newest video in the "Behind the Webb" series takes viewers behind the scenes to reveal how the pieces that make up each layer of the James Webb Space Telescope's thin sunshield are bonded together.

Recommended for you

NASA's space-station resupply missions to relaunch

November 29, 2015

NASA's commercial space program returns to flight this week as one of its private cargo haulers, Orbital ATK, is to launch its first supply shipment to the International Space Station in more than 13 months.

The hottest white dwarf in the Galaxy

November 25, 2015

Astronomers at the Universities of Tübingen and Potsdam have identified the hottest white dwarf ever discovered in our Galaxy. With a temperature of 250,000 degrees Celsius, this dying star at the outskirts of the Milky ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.