A heat-resistant coating developed at University College Dublin (UCD) will be crucial in allowing the European Space Agency’s (ESA) Solar Orbiter to get closer to the Sun than any other previous satellite as it sets out to unlock the mysteries of the 4.6 billion-year-old star at the centre of our solar system.
The €1.35 billion mission, which launched earlier today from NASA’s Cape Canaveral base in Florida will see the European spacecraft come withing 43 million Kms of the Sun. At this distance, the Solar Orbiter will be subjected to an average temperature of 500 degrees Celsius as it circles the star 22 times over the course of its expected two-years of observations.
To survive such intense heat and radiation the satellite’s panels, made of several layers of Titanium, have been protected in two special coatings specifically developed for the Solar Orbiter mission.
The two coatings “SolarBlack” (to absorb the sun’s radiation) and “SolarWhite” (to reflect the sun’s radiation) were developed by Irish company ENBIO while it was headquartered at NovaUCD from 2011 to 2015.
The “SolarWhite” coating was specifically developed by the company as a result of a collaborative research project with Professor Kenneth Stanton, Head, UCD School of Mechanical and Materials Engineering.
Through UCD’s knowledge transfer team at NovaUCD the “SolarWhite” patented technology was subsequently licensed to ENBIO.
The technique to apply the coatings uses a method to similar to how Titanium medical implants are coated with artificial bone – blasting off the oxide layers on the surface of the Titanium and allowing another material to replace the layer.
“With the Solar Orbiter launching [today] from Cape Canaveral the collaboration between ENBIO and UCD to develop the “SolarWhite” coating now kicks into its own as the heat shielding radiator panels keeping the scientific instruments on the mission cool for the next 10 years will be exposed to space for the first time,” said John O’Donoghue, CEO, ENBIO, speaking from Florida.
“The development of Solar White thermal control surface for this immensely important solar science mission would not have been possible without ENBIO collaborating with Professor Ken Stanton and his materials engineering team at the School of Mechanical and Materials Engineering at University College Dublin.”
“They provided the deep ceramics knowledge and expertise and access to vital measurement equipment that was required to develop this coating,” he explained.
“While this collaboration is the culmination of Enterprise Ireland supported work that began in 2012, after ENBIO located to NovaUCD, it is the performance of the “SolarWhite” coating over the lifetime of the mission that counts. We will now quietly celebrate the mission and our part in it over the next decade or so.”
UCD and ENBIO won the 2018 Knowledge Transfer Ireland (KTI) Collaborative Research Impact Award for the development of “SolarWhite” coating.