Solar Orbiter must operate for years in one of the most hostile regions of the Solar System. At closest approach, approximately 42 million kilometres from the Sun, it will be at just over a quarter of the distance between the star and our planet, well inside the orbit of inner planet Mercury. This close to the Sun, the spacecraft will be exposed to sunlight 13 times more intense than what we feel on Earth. The spacecraft must also endure powerful bursts of particle radiation from explosions in the solar atmosphere. The spacecraft’s heatshield is key to making this mission possible, which can withstand temperatures of 500 ̊C. Small sliding doors with heat resistant windows let sunlight in to the science instruments located directly behind the protective heatshield.
Solar Orbiter is a space mission of international collaboration between ESA and NASA. Its mission is to perform unprecedented close-up observations of the Sun and from high-latitudes, providing the first images of the uncharted polar regions of the Sun, and investigating the Sun-Earth connection. Data from the spacecraft’s suite of ten instruments will provide unprecedented insight into how our parent star works in terms of the 11-year solar cycle, and how we can better predict periods of stormy space weather.