<< Imagen: Solar Orbiter © NASA
The European Space Agency has awarded SENER the contract for supplying the antenna subsystem for the Solar Orbiter (SOLO) science satellite, whose primary contractor is Astrium UK.
The goal of this mission, developed jointly by the ESA and NASA, is to study the sun's upper latitudes and its poles, with a particular emphasis on the magnetic activity in the heliosphere. Its objectives are to determine the properties, dynamics and interactions between the solar plasma, the magnetic fields and the particles in the heliosphere around the sun; to investigate the relationship between the sun's surface, corona and inner heliosphere; to explore the energetic particles, dynamics and fine-scale structure of the sun's magnetised atmosphere at all altitudes; and to probe the solar dynamo by observing the star's higher latitudes and the movements of its seismic waves. Solar Orbiter is designed to carry an extensive complement of scientific instruments to the near-Sun environment and will be able to provide unique insights in the workings of our Sun.
Developing this satellite presents a number of technical and technological challenges due to the intense radiation and high temperatures to which all of the equipment will be exposed, especially those positioned on the probe's exterior; when the satellite reaches its closest orbit to the sun, they will have to withstand solar radiation of 17,000 Watts per square meter, and the external equipment will reach operating temperatures in the 400°C range. Meanwhile, at its farthest distance from the sun the satellite will experience temperatures under -100°C. This will hold true for the communication antenna whose subsystem SENER will be providing. This will include a high-gain swiveling reflector, the orbiter's mid-gain swiveling antenna and its two low-gain antennas. For the high- and mid-gain antennas, SENER will also be responsible for the separation booms, the deployment and pointing mechanisms, the thermal hardware and the control electronics.
The high-gain antenna is the satellite's main antenna, used for sending all of the scientific data it gathers to Earth. The mid-gain antenna will be used as a back-up. Lastly, SENER will supply the two low-gain antennas with semi-omnidirectional coverage, which will keep the satellite in permanent contact with Earth even when it has lost its orientation and none of the other antennas can be oriented towards the Earth.
With its projected duration of three years, this contract for the Solar Orbiter's antenna subsystem is the largest contract SENER has thus far been awarded. The antennas alone will require over 100,000 hours of engineering work.
On top of this, SENER has also been awarded the contract for the Feedtroughs, doors and mechanism subsystem: through-wall filters that provide the satellite with non-hermetic protective covering for its remote sensing instruments. The company was entrusted with Phase 1 involving verification of critical technology, and is currently bidding on the contract for Phase 2. SENER also contributed to one of the scientific instruments on board, the SPADA or EPD (Energetic and Suprathermal Particle Detector Analyzer) which will analyze high energy particles and whose research was mainly conducted by the University of Alcalá.
SENER was awarded these contracts because of its experience in previous projects like the BepiColombo, a mission to explore Mercury, which was used as a reference for the Solar Orbiter. Here the company again developed the satellite's medium-gain antenna system and the entire pointing system for its high-gain antenna, along with other components.