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Airbus-Built Solar Orbiter Spacecraft Heads to Florida

By | October 18, 2019

Airbus’ Solar Orbiter spacecraft. Photo: Airbus

Solar Orbiter, the European Space Agency’s (ESA) flagship mission to study the Sun has completed all tests and is set to be flown to Cape Canaveral ready for its launch in February 2020. Built by Airbus in Stevenage, England, Solar Orbiter will study the Sun and its effects on the solar system. The spacecraft carries a suite of complementary instruments that will measure the particles, fields, and waves of the plasma through which it travels, and at the same time make observations of the Sun’s surface and outer atmosphere, the photosphere, and corona.

Solar Orbiter has been undergoing testing at the IABG test centre near Munich since October 2018. These included electromagnetic compatibility, vibration and thermal vacuum, as well as deployment of solar arrays and booms from the spacecraft. All tests have been successfully completed.

“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.