An Irish software company will play a role ensuring a spacecraft built by the European Space Agency will orbit the sun.
Solar Orbiter will launch on from Cape Canaveral in Florida on Monday.
Irish-owned Malahide software company, CAPTEC, has been involved in the Solar Orbiter project since 2013, providing independent verification of the on- board software that will guide and control the spacecraft when in flight.
According to managing director Jon Kennedy, the company "has analysed each stage of the software development, and has run independent tests simulating failures to check the spacecraft's reaction a process that has led to corrections and improvements in the software and operating procedures".
Built by the European Space Agency to observe the Sun's behaviour, Solar Orbiter is a scientific spacecraft that will use ten on-board cameras and sensors to take measurements across the spectrum from radio waves to x-rays. Through its work, Solar Orbiter aims to make significant breakthroughs in our understanding of both the inner workings of the sun, and the solar weather generated by it.
The solar weather includes radiation and particles that can have a direct effect on electrical and electronic systems both on Earth, and in the weather and communication satellites we rely on.
During its journey towards the sun, Solar Orbiter will perform gravity-assist manoeuvres around Venus and Earth. In 2022 it will reach an orbit bringing it to within one third of Earth's distance from the Sun where, as well as providing a much closer view of the Sun, it will follow the Sun's rotation allowing it to observe features on the Sun's surface for prolonged periods.
During the mission, its orbit will be tilted to allow the instruments on board to image the polar regions of the Sun clearly for the first time. Because the orbit brings it so close to the sun, Solar Orbiter will experience thirteen times the solar heating experienced by Earth, bringing temperatures on its titanium heat shield up to 520 degrees C.
ESA's other solar observatory, SOHO, was launched in 1995, and is currently in an orbit 1.5 million kilometres from Earth. CAPTEC designed and coded the software that is keeping SOHO pointing at the Sun. Originally planned to end its mission in 1998, its success has led to several extensions, current plans being to keep it operating until 2022.