Solar Orbiter ready to launch: the Italian instrument Metis is on board


The Solar Orbiter spacecraft integration in the Atlas V launcher (Pre-launch activities - Kennedy Space Center, Florida)
The Solar Orbiter spacecraft integration in the Atlas V launcher (Pre-launch activities - Kennedy Space Center, Florida)

On February the 9th, the Solar Orbiter spacecraft will be launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida. The Solar Orbiter mission has been realized as a joint collaboration between ESA and NASA. A United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V 411 rocket will place the spacecraft in an interplanetary orbit towards the Sun.

The Solar Orbiter mission has been conceived to answer fundamental questions on solar system science and will help our understanding on how the Sun creates and controls the eliosphere. Solar Orbiter will study the mechanism generating the solar wind and thus it will lead to the realization of a space weather forecasting service to protect our essential technological devices on Earth and humans in space.

The spacecraft has been developed by Airbus and will carry a suite of ten scientific instruments built in Europe and the United States. Solar Orbiter will arrive very close to the Sun, about one fifth of the distance between the Earth and the Sun. One of the instrument onboard Solar Orbiter is Metis, realized in Italy. Metis has been design for the detailed observation of the solar coronal structures.

The Solar Orbiter science team people are now in Cape Canaveral to follow the prelaunch activities and see the launch. "It is really exciting to be here and to able to see the Solar Orbiter launch, it's a chance that rarely happens" says Alain Jody Corso Ifn-Cnr researcher. "The Metis cononagraph will be able to produce an artificial eclipse, blocking the light from the very bright Sun disc, allowing us to study the very thin surrounding solar corona".

The Ifn-Cnr Padova researchers have been involved in the design, realization and calibration of the instrument in close collaboration with the Metis team. Ifn-Cnr has been responsible for development and characterization of the mirror coatings, that will be exposed to a very harsh space environment, for the optical tolerance budget and for the alignment integration and calibration of the whole coronagraph instrument.

“Since several months we are preparing the 'commissioning' activities, i.e. when the instrument will be switched on in-flight for the first time and all its operational modes will be tested” says Paola Zuppella Ifn-Cnr researcher “Starting from few days after launch, our team will be in the ESA ESOC control center to follow the operation and in-flight calibration of the instrument”.

Metis has been funded by the Italian Space Agency, and it has been conceived and realized by a scientific team composed of different institutions: INAF, Italian universities (i.e. mainly Torino, Milano, Padova, Firenze, Napoli and Catania), and the Institute for photonics and nanotechnologies of the Cnr (Ifn-Cnr). The industrial team has been managed by a consortium including OHB Italia in Milano and Thales Alenia Space di Torino, in collaboration with the Max Planck for Solar System Research (MPS) in Göttingen Germany and the Czech Academy of Science. The instrument PI is Marco Romoli from Florence University.

Per informazioni:
Vania Da Deppo
CNR - Istituto di fotonica e nanotecnologie
Via Trasea,7
35131 Padova - Italy

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