• Airbus Defence and Space selected as prime contractor for the ESA Solar Orbiter mission
• The closest ever view of our Sun – a seven year mission lifetime
• Mission will help scientists understand the causes of space weather
26 April 2012 – Airbus Defence and Space, Europe’s leading space company, has been selected by the European Space Agency (ESA) as prime contractor for the Solar Orbiter mission that will perform close-up observations of the Sun. With this €300 million contract signed in London, Airbus Defence and Space builds upon its extensive science mission expertise that includes the solar spacecraft SOHO and Ulysses.
Solar Orbiter is the first mission in ESA's Cosmic Vision programme to start its implementation phase and is scheduled for launch in 2017. The mission lifetime will be 7 years.
Solar Orbiter will study the Sun in detail and its effects on the solar system. The spacecraft will carry 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.
At its closest point Solar Orbiter will be closer to the Sun than the planet Mercury, at a distance of 0.28 Astronomical Units (42 million kilometers), in an orbit that takes it out of the ecliptic plane. From here, it can perform long-duration observations of the same region of the Sun’s surface, and have visibility of the Sun’s polar regions. It will be one of the closest approaches of the Sun by any spacecraft. To position itself in this challenging orbit, Solar Orbiter will make a complex series of gravitational-assist fly-bys past both Earth and Venus.
Design challenges include accommodating and resourcing a large suite of cutting-edge instruments and ensuring stringent magnetic and molecular cleanliness to enable the most sensitive scientific measurements to be made effectively. At its closest approach, where sunlight is thirteen times more intense than it is for satellites orbiting the Earth, Solar Orbiter must survive intense thermal radiation and protect its instrument suite, while at the same time allowing those instruments to observe the Sun. To achieve this, the design includes a heat shield and incorporates new high-temperature solar array technology.
The Sun is vital for life on Earth, but can also cause major problems for satellites and Earth based systems. The Sun releases bursts of high-energy particles (Coronal Mass Ejections), which can disrupt electrical power distribution systems, cause computers to crash, damage satellites and endanger astronauts. Solar Orbiter will provide scientific data to better understand the mechanisms on the Sun that cause these violent and disruptive outbursts.
Solar Orbiter builds on hugely successful missions such as SOHO and Ulysses that have provided remarkable insights into the workings of our Sun. Like those missions, it is a collaboration between ESA and NASA – a launcher will be provided by NASA and one instrument and one sensor will be contributed from the United States.
SOHO was developed by Airbus Defence and Space for the European Space Agency and launched in December 1995. From its orbit 1.5 million km from Earth, it has been observing the Sun for 17 years with 12 different instruments, revealing new information on the Sun’s interior, surface, the solar wind and its interaction with the interstellar medium. It has also revolutionised space weather forecasting and can provide up to three days notice of major solar events that impact our planet.
Airbus Defence and Space was also the prime contractor of ESA’s Ulysses mission. Ulysses operated for 18.5 years in an orbit taking it far above the Sun’s poles. Key discoveries include measurements of the solar wind from the Sun's polar regions, the discovery that the magnetic flux from the Sun is uniform at all latitudes and the discovery of interstellar dust in the solar system.
You can download pictures of Solar Orbiter on our website:
Copyright: Airbus Defence and Space / 2012
You can watch video of Solar Orbiter on our website:
About Airbus Defence and Space
Airbus Defence and Space is the number one company in Europe for space technologies and the third in the world. In 2011, Airbus Defence and Space had a turnover close to €5 billion and 18,000 employees worldwide, mainly in France, Germany, the United Kingdom, Spain and the Netherlands.
Airbus Defence and Space is the sole European company that covers the whole range of civil and defence space systems and services.
Its three business units are: Airbus Defence and Space for launchers and orbital infrastructure; Airbus Defence and Space for spacecraft and ground segment; Airbus Defence and Space for comprehensive fixed and mobile end-to-end solutions covering secure and commercial satcoms and networks, high security and broadcast satellite communications equipment and systems, and bespoke geo-information services, worldwide.
Airbus Defence and Space is a wholly owned subsidiary of AIRBUS Group, a global leader in aerospace, defence and related services. In 2011, the Group – comprising Airbus, Airbus Defence and Space, Cassidian and Eurocopter – generated revenues of € 49.1 billion and employed a workforce of over 133,000.
Jeremy Close (Airbus Defence and Space UK) Tel.: +44 (0)1 438 77 3872
Gregory Gavroy (Airbus Defence and Space FR) Tel.: +33 (0) 1 77 75 80 32
Mathias Pikelj (Airbus Defence and Space GER) Tel.: +49 (0) 7545 8 9123
Francisco Lechón (Airbus Defence and Space SP) Tel.: +34 91 586 37 41