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The UK-built Solar Orbiter is preparing to leave the Airbus factory in Stevenage to travel to Germany for testing, ahead of its launch in 2020 from Cape Canaveral in Florida, USA.
The UK is at the heart of this European Space Agency (ESA) mission to uncover the secrets of our planet’s star. Solar Orbiter will provide close-up views of the Sun’s polar regions, tracking features such as solar storms and the solar wind which causes Earth’s atmosphere to light up as the Aurora or Northern Lights. The north and south poles of the Sun ‘flipped’ in 2013 and Solar Orbiter will also explore this phenomenon.
ESA selected Airbus Defence and Space in the UK as the prime contractor on the mission in 2012, to lead a team of companies and universities from all over Europe that supply various parts of the spacecraft.
The UK is a world-leader in solar physics research and its scientists are in high demand on solar missions. UK scientists were instrumental in proposing the Solar Orbiter mission to ESA and the UK Space Agency funded teams from University College London, Imperial College London and the RALSpace to design and build three out of the ten state-of-the-art scientific instruments on board the spacecraft, and to contribute to a fourth.
Business Secretary Greg Clark said: