UNH instrument ready for launch aboard Solar Orbiter

International mission will head off to study the sun on Feb. 7

When the new Solar Orbiter blasts off from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center on Feb. 7, it will carry an instrument designed and built by researchers from the University of New Hampshire Space Science Center.

The international mission, led by the European Space Agency in collaboration with NASA, will focus on the heliosphere — the bubble-like region of space that surrounds the solar system. It will provide data to help scientists gain a deeper understanding of the solar wind, solar eruptions and the sun’s magnetic field which all influence space weather and can impact astronauts, spacecraft, satellites, and communication technologies.

UNH contributed to the Heavy Ion Sensor, which is a collaboration of UNH, the Southwest Research Institute, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, the University of Michigan and the University of Bern, Switzerland and is one portion of the Solar Wind Analyzer instrument. It is one of 10 instruments aboard the Solar Orbiter.

UNH’s research involved 43 faculty, staff and students, all assisting in the development of the time-of-flight subsection of the Heavy Ion Sensor, which will detect solar wind particles, such as oxygen, nitrogen and carbon, and provide data on their charged state to indicate from what part of the sun they originated.

UNH’s SSC Assembly Lab and the Morse Hall Machine Shop helped to fabricate components, ran simulations, tested prototypes in vacuum conditions, and ran several sub-assembly stress tests, so the unit would not only detect the proper particles, but also withstand the stress of launch.

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