SENER Aeroespacial is a supplier for five key systems in Solar Orbiter

06/02/2020 (International)
SENER Aeroespacial is a supplier for five key systems in Solar Orbiter

The mission to the Sun represents the largest contract in the history of SENER Aeroespacial, which has worked in parallel on five different contracts: the antennae subsystem, the feed-through filter subsystem, the boom instrument, and the EPD and So-Phi scientific instruments.

SENER Aeroespacial has participated in five key components of the Solar Orbiter mission, a joint initiative of the European (ESA) and American (NASA) space agencies to study the Sun, which is scheduled to be launched on February 9 from Cape Canaveral (USA).

The different responsibilities of SENER Aeroespacial in this program represent, as a whole, the largest contract awarded to SENER in its history in the space sector. The company has carried out in parallel the following equipment and systems: the antenna subsystem, the feed-throughs subsystem, the Boom instrument and the EDP and So-phi scientific instruments.

In all of them, the intense radiation and high temperatures to which the equipment will be exposed have posed a number of technical and technological challenges in the satellite's development. In the case of the equipment positioned on the probe's exterior, when the satellite reaches its orbit’s closest point to the sun, it will need to withstand solar radiation of 17,000 Watts per square meter, and the external equipment will reach operating temperatures in the 400°C range. At the orbit’s farthest point from the sun, the satellite will experience temperatures under –100°C.

SENER Aeroespacial has been entrusted with one of the largest contracts for the satellite: the communications antenna subsystem. This subsystem includes the high-gain steerable antenna, the orbiter's mid-gain steerable antenna and its two low-gain antennas. For the high- and mid-gain antennas, SENER will also be responsible for the separation booms, the deployment and pointing mechanisms, the thermal hardware and the control electronics.

The high-gain antenna is the satellite’s main antenna, used for sending all of the scientific data it gathers to Earth. The mid-gain antenna will be used as a back-up. Lastly, SENER will supply the two low-gain antennas which will keep the satellite in permanent contact with Earth even when it has lost its orientation and none of the other antennas can be oriented towards the Earth.

SENER Aeroespacial is also the supplier of the Instrument Boom subsystem, which consists of a retractable boom carrying four instruments that are highly sensitive to magnetic fields. The boom acts to move the instruments away from the electromagnetic disturbances generated by the satellite’s equipment while it is operating.

The third contract in charge of SENER Aeroespacial is the feed troughs subsystem: through-wall filters that provide the satellite with non-hermetic protective covering for its remote detection instruments.

Besides, SENER Aeroespacial has participated on two of the on board scientific instruments. One of them is the ESPADA or EPD (Energetic and Surathermal PArticle Detector Analizer), which will analyze high energy particles. Its head and main researcher belongs to Universidad de Alcalá (in Spain). For this institution, SENER Aeroespacial has carried out systems engineering, quality assurance and consultancy in electronic and mechanical/thermal engineering, as well as software.

The second Solar Orbiter scientific instrument in which SENER Aeroespacial participates is So-Phi (Polarimetric and Helioseismic Imager), a high-performance camera whose objective is to map the magnetic field vector and speed, along the line of sight, of the solar photospheric plasma.

For the So-Phi instrument, whose Spanish consortium is led by the Instituto Astrofísico de Andalucía (IAA), SENER Aerospacial has been responsible for system engineering support, quality and manufacturing tasks and testing of all the models of the electronic unit e-Unit and the correlator camera (CTC).

A mission to study the Sun and its magnetic activity

The goal of the Solar Orbiter mission, developed jointly by the ESA and NASA, is to study the sun and magnetic activity in the heliosphere; it will able to obtain unique information which will help to understand how this star functions and even to predict its behavior.

Its objectives are to determine the properties, dynamics and interactions between the solar plasma, the magnetic fields and the particles in the heliosphere around the sun; to investigate the relationship between the sun's surface, corona and inner heliosphere; to explore the energetic particles, dynamics and fine-scale structure of the sun's magnetised atmosphere at all altitudes; and to probe the solar dynamo by observing the star's higher latitudes and the movements of its seismic waves.

Solar Orbiter has been designed to carry a large payload of scientific instruments to the region close to the sun. In fact, it will be the first satellite to provide close-up views of the sun's polar regions, which are difficult to see from the Earth, providing images from latitudes greater than 25 degrees. For a few days, it will fall in with the sun’s rotation around its axis, allowing the development of a solar storm to be observed for a prolonged period from the same perspective. It will also provide data from the side of the sun not visible from the Earth.

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