Solar Orbiter spacecraft: ESA plans multi-year mission to the sun

The European Space Agency (ESA) will send the Solar Orbiter spacecraft, equipped with ten instruments, to the sun next month. The researchers hope that the multi-year mission will provide new insights into solar winds and the dynamics that are responsible for solar flares.

To do this, Solar Orbiter will fly closer to the sun than its next planet Mercury – at around 45 million kilometers. Accordingly, it gets hot on the side facing the sun: over 500 ° C. For this reason, it protects heat shield the valuable instruments on board and only opens the view of the sun with flaps during measurements.

Predict solar flares

This also applies to the X-ray telescope (STIX), which is intended to examine solar eruptions more closely and may make it possible to predict large eruptions. It was developed at the University of Applied Sciences of the University of Applied Sciences Northwestern Switzerland (FHNW) – in collaboration with several Swiss industrial partners such as Almatech. Swiss drives from Maxon also come in X-ray telescope for use. Two specially modified DC motors with a diameter of 13 millimeters move an aluminum damping network that is pushed in front of the 30 STIX detectors as required. The micro drives are placed in parallel, can be operated together or individually, which ensures smooth operation over the entire planned mission of five years. The design is based on micromotors that will soon be available in the ExoMars rover the ESA are used. When selecting the drives, the low weight, energy efficiency and vibration resistance played an important role.

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Solar Orbiter is one of ESA’s flagship projects and costs more than 1 billion Swiss francs, which is around 935 million euros. After the planned start in early February, the probe will be on the move for almost two years before it can start measuring. The mission is scheduled to end in 2025.

From the sun to Mars

While Solar Orbiter is about to start, preparations are underway for the next two Mars projects, which should start in summer 2020: The Mars2020 rover NASA and ESA’s ExoMars rover. Both missions are designed to provide new knowledge about the red planet and, for example, answer the question of whether there was life on Mars. Mars2020 is also with a small one helicopter equipped to prove that flights on Mars are possible – despite the very thin atmosphere.

Maxon drives perform mission-critical tasks in both projects: For example, for the wheel drives, the handling of soil samples or the control of the Mars helicopter.

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