Sun observation satellite with Portuguese technology to be launched

  • Lusa
  • 10 February 2020

The device, which will be 42 million kilometres from the Sun at its closest approach, is equipped with ten instruments to observe the Sun's turbulent surface.

The device, whose launch has been scheduled for 5, 6 and 8 February, will be sent into space from the Cape Canaveral base, in the United States, at 11.03 p.m. on Sunday in local time (4.03 p.m. on Monday in Portugal), according to the most recent calendar released by the European Space Agency (ESA), which is conducting the mission together with its US counterpart NASA.

Critical Software has designed several satellite software systems, such as central command and control systems, fault detection and recovery systems and thermal behaviour management, according to company information.

Active Space Technologies manufactured titanium components for the support and orientation arm of the satellite’s communication antenna with the Earth and titanium channels for the passage of light, which pass through the device’s heat shield, the company told Lusa.

Deimos Engenharia, the Portuguese arm of the technological component of the Spanish engineering and infrastructure construction group Elecnor, worked on the definition and implementation of the strategy to test the Solar Orbiter flight systems.

The mission of the Solar Orbiter is to obtain the first images of the Sun’s poles, considered the key to understanding the solar activity and cycle.

On the other hand, stresses ESA, it will be the first European satellite to enter Mercury’s orbit and explore the connection between the Sun and Earth to better understand the extreme climate in space.

The device, which will be 42 million kilometres from the Sun at its closest approach, the equivalent of a quarter of the distance between the star and the Earth, is equipped with ten instruments to observe the Sun’s turbulent surface, its outer atmosphere and changes in the solar wind (continuous emission of energy particles from the crown, the outermost layer of the solar atmosphere).

The Solar Orbiter, prepared to face temperatures of 500ºC, will work in addition to the American probe Parker Solar Probe, in orbit since 2018, and which has four instruments to study the Sun’s magnetic field, plasma, energy particles and solar wind.

Scientists hope to get answers with this satellite about what leads to the acceleration of the energetic particles, what happens in the polar regions by action of the magnetic field, how the magnetic field is generated in the Sun and how it propagates through its atmosphere and space, how radiation and plasma emissions (ionized gas formed at high temperatures) from the crown affect the Solar System and how solar eruptions produce the energetic particles that lead to the extreme space climate near the Earth.