UK Space Agency makes stellar investment in mission to the Sun
20 Jun 2012
The UK Space Agency has announced a planned £11.5M investment for the scientific payloads for Solar Orbiter - the first medium (M-class) mission in the European Space Agency's (ESA) Cosmic Vision programme. The funding is being shared between British institutions for the development of four of the mission’s instruments to study the Sun.
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Artists impression of Solar Orbiter exploring the Sun’s realm.
Solar Orbiter will discover how the Sun creates and controls the heliosphere – the region of space occupied by the Sun’s atmosphere. It will do this by flying to within 0.28AU of the Sun to provide our closest ever view of the Sun. A powerful combination of ten in-situ and remote sensing instruments will feed back data, four of which are being developed in the UK. This will give us a more detailed picture of the mechanisms of the Sun, from its magnetic field to the solar surface, including the causes of coronal mass ejections and other violent solar activity which can have an effect on Earth.
The UK has been selected as Principal Investigator (PI - science lead) on three instruments and Co-Investigator on a further one of the ten scientific instruments for Solar Orbiter. The UK institutes will be sharing the £11.5M UK Space Agency investment to develop their instruments over 5 years, subject to the next Spending Review.
The potential scientific impact and economic return from this mission to the UK is exceptionally high. Astrium Ltd signed a €300 million contract with ESA in April, making this is the largest single spacecraft contract from ESA to the UK since Aeolus in 2003.
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Artist's impression of Solar Orbiter.
Dr Chris Castelli, Head of Space Science at the UK Space Agency:
“This is a significant project in the UK, with four of the instruments being developed here as well as Astrium’s involvement. The instruments are being produced with a great deal of expertise and will provide exciting new data to further our understanding of the nature of stars and of our small corner of the universe. It represents a great return on UK investment into the ESA Cosmic Vision science programme, and will enable us to maintain our position as a leader in space science within Europe.”
The PIs are: Imperial College London for the Magnetometer; the Science Technology Facilities Council’s RAL Space leading on the telescope for Spectral Imaging of the Coronal Environment (SPICE) and UCL’s Mullard Space Science Laboratory (MSSL) for the Plasma Suite and also co-investigator for the Extreme Ultraviolet Imager.
John Zarnecki, Chair of the UK Space Agency’s Science Programme Advisory Committee: “This is a very challenging space mission – by going closer than we’ve ever been to the Sun, it poses big challenges to the scientists and engineers who are going to design the spacecraft and science instruments. But I’m certain that they’ll rise to the challenge and I look forward to getting our closest views yet of our star, the Sun.”