SPACE TESTING Solar Orbiter Takes a The European Space

Agency’s Solar Orbiter undergoes intense

environmental testing in

preparation for its launch in 2020.

sending the Solar Orbiter craft on a seven year mission to observe the sun, including its polar regions, from an elliptical orbit that takes the space craft inside Mercury’s orbit at its closest approach. Built in the UK by Airbus Defence & Space, the European Space Agency’s (ESA) Solar Orbiter is currently undergoing intense environmental testing at the IABG test facility in Ottobrunn in Germany.

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THE SOLAR ORBITER MISSION Solar Orbiter was designed to perform unprecedented close-up observations of the Sun. To do so, it carries 10 instruments to observe the turbulent, sometimes violent, surface of the Sun and study the changes that take place in the solar wind that flows outward at high speed from it. Its orbit will allow scientists to study the sun and its corona in much more detail than previously possible and to observe specific features for longer periods than

Climatic & Vibration Testing Vol 2 No. 1

s if missions to space weren’t hostile enough, a launch planned for 2020 takes environmental extremes to new levels by

can ever be reached by any spacecraft circling the Earth. In addition, it will measure the solar wind close to the Sun and provide high-resolution images of the Sun’s uncharted polar regions.

THERMAL VACUUM TESTING The first phase of Solar Orbiter’s environmental testing campaign was conducted in IABG’s thermal-vacuum chamber last December. Inside the chamber, powerful lamps are used to produce a ‘solar beam’ that simulates the Sun’s radiation to demonstrate that the spacecraft can sustain the extreme temperatures it will encounter in the Sun’s vicinity. During this test, the solar beam was

used at its maximum flux of about 1800 W/m2, reaching temperatures up to 107.6ºC. An additional thermal-vacuum test was conducted on the heat shield that protects the entire platform from direct solar radiation: during this test, which used infrared plates to simulate the Sun’s heat, the heat shield reached higher temperatures, up to 520ºC, similar to what it will experience during operations.

VIBRATION TEST PREPARATION After the thermal vacuum testing, the orbiter remained at Ottobrun for the next phase of testing for assuring its mechanical integrity. The spacecraft was placed in a stowed configuration as it will be within the shroud of the Atlas V launch vehicle and two solar arrays were fitted. The instrument boom, fitted with its full suite of scientific instruments, was also integrated to the spacecraft’s platform and reference alignment measurements were carried out to compare against post- testing results. In its full flight configuration with all deployable elements stowed, the spacecraft went through a number of pre- vibration manual deployment tests. These will be used as a reference for comparison with the final ‘live-fire’ deployment tests that will be conducted after the vibration test campaign. Since the various appendages are not designed for deployment under Earth’s gravity, the procedure required a series of specially designed off-load rigs. These allow near frictionless deployment of the

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