Astrium sign deal to build Solar Orbiter satellite

NEW The Astrium Solar Orbiter
NEW The Astrium Solar Orbiter
Picture: Paul Jacobs (142476-229) PPP-140824-032155001


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JOBS have been secured in Portsmouth after space firm Astrium signed a contract to send a satellite close to the sun.

The deal is worth £245m for Astrium UK, which has bases in the city at Broad Oak, and in Stevenage.

The Solar Orbiter (SolO) will be ready for launch in 2017 and will fly only 42 million kilometres from the sun - one of the closest approaches to the sun by any aircraft - in order to measure its activity over a seven-year mission.

It is one of the largest contracts ever to have been placed in the UK by the Paris-based European Space Agency.

Astrium’s Jeremy Close said it was not yet known what proportion of the work will be done in Portsmouth.

He said: ‘Space has been growing for the last decade, and certainly in the last few years it’s not been affected by the global economic downturn, and we’re lucky at Astrium in Portsmouth that we’re a world-leading player in space technology, especially satellite payloads, communications, radar technology - all areas that are currently doing pretty well.

‘So this latest contract from the European Space Agency is very exciting because it will help us to discover how the sun works, especially to help us understand for the future solar forecasts, help us predict solar flares and Coronal Mass Ejections - things people worry about affecting systems like banking, communications, telephones etc.

‘This is about securing jobs and to win a contract like this is great.’

Engineers in Portsmouth are experts in designing and installing a satellite payload - the part that collects and stores the important information.

But this contract will need expertise in other areas, such as protecting the satellite from the sun’s heat.

‘Heat will be a huge problem,’ Dr Ralph Cordey, the head of science at Astrium UK, said.

‘If it were not protected, the face of the spacecraft would get as hot as 500 degrees - which would be disastrous.

‘We will use a thick heatshield to reduce the temperature within the spacecraft and its systems down to about room temperature so that all the electronics can operate comfortably.’

Solar Orbiter is a joint venture between ESA and NASA, which will supply a sensor and the rocket to send the satellite on its way.

The contract win has been welcomed by city politicians.

‘I’m over the moon,’ said Cllr Mike Hancock, Portsmouth City Council’s cabinet member for economic growth and regeneration.

‘It’s absolutely amazing, great news. I welcome this with open arms as it not only puts Astrium on the international map, but Portsmouth as well.

‘My heartiest congratulations go to them, especially as this will secure a number of jobs.’

Cllr Hancock’s opposition counterpart, Tory councillor Donna Jones, added: ‘We’re delighted with the news. Astrium is a key business, particularly in the city.’