June 21, 2017

Solar Orbiter antennae undergoing testing

ESA’s Solar Orbiter satellite is designed to study the Sun from only 42 million km away, or 60 solar radii, the closest observation ever achieved. CNES is supervising testing on 3 of its antennae.

3 antennae to study the Sun

Solar Orbiter’s mission is to study our star’s atmosphere, magnetic field, and solar wind. CNES is prime contractor on the Radio and Plasma Waves instrument (RPW), developed by the French Laboratoire d’études spatiales et d’instrumentation en astrophysique (Space studies and astrophysics instruments laboratory, LESIA). This plasma and radio wave analyser will measure both electric and magnetic waves during the entire mission.

Three 6-meter long deployable antennae were designed by Stellar Scientific LLC to equip the satellite and provide maximum coverage for the RPW instrument’s observations. They will have to withstand temperatures above 350 °C and will be fitted with heat shields. Ongoing tests aim to determine the materials’ resistance to temperature fluctuations.

The antenna’s qualification model, build to demonstrate the design’s compliance with harsh mission conditions, has already passed standard tests: electric trials, vibration and impact resistance, and significant temperature fluctuations.


CNES performs further testing

After the initial tests carried out by Stellar Scientific, the antenna was delivered to CNES for a second 4-month trial phase. The objective is to determine if vibrations suffered during launch or exposure to space vacuum can affect antenna deployment. Once this risk has been dismissed, the equipment will undergo further thermal testing; it will be subjected to temperatures ranging from -180 to 140 °C. Final tests will determine if the antenna collects data as it should.

Once this qualification model has passed every test, flight models will be cleared for the Solar Orbiter project. The mission is scheduled to last 7.5 years at least (until late 2026), and could be extended up to mid-2029.

Antenna model (retracted) © Isabelle Fratter

Find out more


(In French) http://www.lesia.obspm.fr/Solar-Orbiter.html


French Contributions to Solar Orbiter Project Manager
Isabelle Fratter
Email: isabelle.fratter at cnes.fr

RPW Instrument Supervisor
Elise Bellouard
Email: elise.bellouard at cnes.fr

RPW Antennae Supervisor
Pascale Danto
Email: pascale.danto at cnes.fr