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.
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.
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."
For further information, please contact:
UK Space Agency
Tel: +44 (0)1793 418069
Artists impression of Solar Orbiter exploring the Sun's realm.
Notes to Editors
Cosmic Vision is ESA's long term space science programme and is designed to undertake frontier scientific research. The UK Space Agency, through its subscription to the mandatory Science Programme and its investment in building and operating the science payloads on the ESA spacecraft ensures that the UK's scientific community has access to world class space missions.
In 2007 several mission concepts were selected for studies in response to a competitive call by ESA for 'Medium' class missions to occupy the first two launch slots in the Cosmic Vision plan. Following the successful conclusion of the Assessment and Definition phases, the Science Programme Committee selected two missions for implementation - Solar Orbiter and Euclid. Solar Orbiter will travel closer to the sun than any previous mission to study the surface and connections between the Sun and inner solar system.
Read more about Solar Orbiter and the €300M contract won earlier this year by Astrium to build the spacecraft: http://www.bis.gov.uk/ukspaceagency/news-and-events/2012/Apr/astrium-awarded-300-million-contract-to-build-the-latest-mission-to-study-the-sun
The four UK led instruments:
Magnetometer (MAG) - will have two sensors located on a deployable boom in the shadow of the spacecraft, i.e. away from the Sun, enabling it to sample the magnetic field in situ and providing important diagnostic information. Imperial College London will lead the development of this instrument.
Extreme Ultraviolet Imager (EUI) - will be a suite of imaging telescopes that will provide images of the hot and cold layers of the solar atmosphere and of the solar corona showing the dynamics in fine detail and providing the link between the solar surface and outer corona. MSSL of the University College London is a Co-Investigator for this instrument.
Spectral Imaging of the Coronal Environment (SPICE) - is a telescope with a grating spectrograph and two active pixel sensor detectors that will provide images of the solar disk and corona. SPICE will be able to study features both on the surface and out in the corona and to look at the connection between them. RAL Space (based at the Science Technology Facilities Council's Rutherford Appleton Laboratory) is a Co-Investigator for this instrument.
Solar Wind Analyser (SWA) - will use three components to measure the different elements of the solar wind and characterise their behaviour under different solar conditions. MSSL of the University College London will lead the development of this instrument suite.
UK Space Agency
The UK Space Agency is at the heart of UK efforts to explore and benefit from space. It is responsible for all strategic decisions on the UK civil space programme and provides a clear, single voice for UK space ambitions. The UK Space Agency is responsible for ensuring that the UK retains and grows a strategic capability in the space-based systems, technologies, science and applications. It leads the UK's civil space programme in order to win sustainable economic growth, secure new scientific knowledge and provide benefits to all citizens.
The UK Space Agency:
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