Solar Orbiter, satellite destined for record-breaking sun mission, gets UK deal

The European Space Agency (ESA) today announced that it is teaming up with a UK firm to build a new spacecraft projected to travel nearer to the sun than any satellite to date, reported the BBC

The announcement coincides with the 50th anniversary of Britain’s first satellite launch, said NASA

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The Solar Orbiter spacecraft is scheduled for a 2017 launch that will take it on journey closer to the sun’s surface than any spacecraft yet, hovering only 42 million kilometers away from the white-hot star, said BBC

Spaceflight Now said it will also enter Mercury’s orbit as part of a seven-year mission. 

Astrium’s science director, Dr. Ralph Cordey, told BBC that the biggest challenge will be heat from the sun, which scientists intend to offset by way of a special heat shield that can withstand temperatures as high as 500 degrees.

“Solar Orbiter is a fantastic mission,” Spaceflight Now quoted ESA science head Gimenez Canete as saying. “It will help us understand how the sun, essential to almost all life on Earth, forms the heliosphere and the origin of space weather, which can have an enormous influence on our modern civilization.”

The 300-million-euro project is one of the largest space contracts signed by the ESA and Astrium UK, said NASA.

The UK’s space industry is quite robust, contributing some seven billion pounds a year to the economy, according to The Guardian.

Britain recently established a new space unit called the UK Space Agency, which is tasked with managing future space endeavors, said The Guardian

The UK does not participate in any human spaceflight programs.

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