Scientists to Use Prehistoric Cave Pigment to Develop Protection for ESA's Solar Probe from Sun's glare

Scientists to Use Prehistoric Cave Pigment to Develop Protection for ESA's Solar

Burnt bone charcoal pigment was once daubed onto prehistoric cave paintings. It will now be used to protect ESA's Solar Orbiter mission from the Sun's close-up glare. It will be applied to the spacecraft's titanium heat shield with the help of a brand new technique.

Launch of Solar Orbiter is slated to take place in 2017. The mission is aimed at capturing high-resolution imaging of the sun from as close as 42 million km, which is a little more than 25% of the distance to earth.

The orbiter will perform the tasks with the help of a portfolio of instruments. Pierre Olivier, Solar Orbiter's safety engineer, said there will be a multi-layered heat shield of 3.1m by 2.4m to provide cover to the main body of the spacecraft.

Irish company Enbio and its CoBlast technique originally developed the technique to coat titanium medical implants. Researchers found that the technique could be highly effective in providing the much needed cover shield to the ESA's Solar Orbiter mission to prevent from the sun's close-up glare.

The process serves the purpose for reactive metals like titanium, aluminum and stainless steel. These metals posses a surface oxide layer. Materials technology specialist Andrew Norman said that the color of the shield cannot change despite years of extreme exposure to the sun. And if the color changes the heat-absorption properties will also change.

"To go on absorbing sunlight, then convert it into infrared to radiate back out to space, its surface material needs to maintain constant 'thermo-optical properties' keep the same color despite years of exposure to extreme ultraviolet radiation", said Andrew Norman.

In order to avoid the risk of contaminating Solar Orbiter's highly sensitive instruments, the shield will not shed material or outgas vapors.


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