Irish companies contribute to ESA Solar Orbiter mission

Artist’s impression of Solar Orbiter. ESA / ATG media lab.

Enterprise Ireland client companies developed mission-critical technologies for ESA spacecraft

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10 February 2020 | 0

The European Space Agency (ESA) has launched its Solar Orbiter mission to uncover secrets of the Sun. Several Irish companies and research institutes developed technologies for the spacecraft.

Successfully launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida, the Solar Orbiter was designed to observe the Sun from high latitudes. If successful, the spacecraft would provide the first images of the Sun’s uncharted polar regions and explore the Sun-Earth connection.

The Solar Orbiter spacecraft showing the scientific instruments. ESA / ATG media lab.

Built by Airbus D&S, the Solar Orbiter carries scientific instruments for in-situ measurements and high-resolution imaging of the Sun, provided by various ESA member states, including Ireland.

Dublin-based software company Captec provided independent software verification and validation services to ensure that the Solar Orbiter’s critical onboard software was fit for purpose. While Enbio’s mission-critical thermal coating technology, SolarBlack, will protect the spacecraft and its instruments from the Sun’s intense radiation. The two Irish companies won a combined total of €3.1 million in industrial contracts for the mission.

Further, Trinity College Dublin and the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies received ESA funding of €965,000 in support of the development of imaging software for the Spectrometer/Telescope Imaging X-rays (STIX) instrument. STIX is one of ten science instruments onboard.

The Solar Orbiter mission, which had strong NASA participation, was selected as the first medium-class mission of ESA’s Cosmic Vision 2015-2025 Programme. The ESA hopes it will make significant breakthroughs in our understanding of how the Sun’s heliosphere works, and of the effects of solar activity on it.

Commending Enbio and Captec’s contribution to the successful launch, Dr Tom Kelly, director of innovation & competitiveness, Enterprise Ireland said; “Enbio’s novel thermal coating will help protect the spacecraft and its scientific instruments from intense solar radiation – effectively acting as a ‘sunscreen’ for the spacecraft. In addition, Captec played a crucial role in assuring that the onboard software will function reliably over the mission’s lifetime.

“Ireland recently published National Space Strategy for Enterprise 2019-2025, which focusses on creating sustainable space-active businesses developing ground-breaking technologies for space and spinning out those technologies into commercial terrestrial markets including automotive, medical, advanced manufacturing and fintech. Enbio’s novel coating technology has already been applied in rubber moulding applications, while Captec are applying software techniques they utilise for spacecraft to banking and medical sectors.”

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