Solar Orbiter is an ESA mission with strong NASA collaboration, aiming to study the Sun from 42 million km (about a quarter of the distance between the Sun and Earth). The satellite and its components have been designed to support temperatures of up to 500°C and highly charged particles of the solar wind for seven years, at least.
The spacecraft will observe never-seen areas of our star, including the poles, in order to solve some of its mysteries like the solar wind, its dynamics and what triggers it. The mission will also collect data of solar magnetic field.
DEIMOS was involved in the very beginning of the mission, when it was just in the assessment phase, in mission analysis activities with trajectory calculation for low thrust and resonance orbits. More recently, our Portuguese branch, has provided fundamental engineering services to the Solar Orbiter prime contractor, Airbus Defence and Space Ltd in UK. We played a central role in the definition of the strategy to test the unique flight systems of Solar Orbiter. Indeed, complex tests have been performed on a multitude of highly sophisticated test benches, including high-fidelity real-time simulators and the actual spacecraft. These have tested the complete avionics including flight control, complete on-board software, FDIR and operations including tests with the control centre from ESA in Germany. Many different scenarios were used, from nominal to very extreme failures situations aiming at ensuring the robustness of the spacecraft and the necessary confidence for mission success.
Furthermore, DEIMOS Engenharia managed the analysis and reporting of all these tests which were on the critical path for the launch of Solar Orbiter. Tenths of tests and an even higher number of reports involving large teams were perfectly coordinated achieving successfully a key project milestone on time to authorise the launch of the satellite: The Qualification and Acceptance Review.
Understanding solar activity is critical for the infrastructure on and around Earth. Powerful ejections of solar plasma can cause geomagnetic storms that disrupt electrical and telecommunication networks on the ground as well as the operations of satellites orbiting our planet.
Pictures: ESA/ATG medialab