(ORDO NEWS) — The upcoming mission of ESA’s EarthCARE satellite has just been “stretched out”. Engineers carefully deployed this new satellite’s huge five-panel solar wing to see if it would work properly once it was in space.
The solar wing is an important part of the satellite, providing EarthCARE with the power to do its job of quantifying the role clouds and aerosols play in warming and cooling the Earth’s atmosphere.
EarthCARE is one of ESA’s Earth exploration missions. Since the launch of the first Earth Explorer in 2009, these world-class exploration missions have shown how groundbreaking satellite technology and new observational techniques are providing us with an astounding range of scientific discoveries about our planet.
Our planet and the life it supports are under increasing pressure, especially as a result of climate change. The need to study the work of our planet as a system is more relevant than ever.
This is necessary not only from the point of view of academic interest, but also to provide us with key information for making decisions for the benefit of society.
EarthCARE will be launched soon. It aims to answer important scientific questions related to the role of clouds and aerosols both in reflecting incoming solar radiation back into space and in capturing infrared radiation emitted from the Earth’s surface. This delicate balance is an important factor in regulating the Earth’s temperature.
Although clouds play an extremely important role in heating and cooling the atmosphere, they remain one of the biggest mysteries. In fact they are one of the least understood factors in the atmospheric control of the climate system.
Therefore, for future climate research and weather forecasting, it is essential to improve our understanding of the internal structure and spatial distribution of clouds, their relationship with aerosols and radiation, as well as the impact of climate warming on clouds, their heating and cooling processes.
To make the measurements required for this important atmospheric study, EarthCARE is equipped with a suite of instruments, namely an atmospheric lidar, cloud Doppler radar, a multispectral imager, and a broadband radiometer.
Together, lidar, radar and thermal imaging will provide unprecedented measurements of clouds and aerosols, while the radiometer will measure radiation.
Its toolbox is impressive, as is its only 11m long solar wing, which will be sprawled in orbit at the back of the satellite.
While engineers prepare EarthCARE for operation in orbit, the satellite will spend the next seven months at ESA’s ESTEC test center in the Netherlands, the largest satellite test center in Europe.
This 3,000 sq. m, test equipment is installed to simulate all aspects of the space environment, from the vacuum and extreme temperatures of low Earth orbit to the intense noise and vibration during rocket launch.
One of the first tests involved deploying the solar wing from a folded configuration that allows it to fit inside the rocket body, to the fully deployed configuration it would be in orbit.
Mehrdad Rezazad of ESA said: “We have a long list of tests we need to run on EarthCARE in preparation for launch and flight. It was very difficult for the Airbus team, which is the main contractor for EarthCARE, as well as the ESA and JAXA consortium team, to meet the schedule.”
“We are very pleased to report that the solar wing deployment test went very well. The timely and complete deployment of such a large solar wing shortly after launch is critical to the mission.”
“Because we have to deal with terrestrial gravity, individual panels were suspended from test wires. In orbit, the ties holding the five panels together during launch configuration will be automatically sheared by a set of thermal knives, thereby freeing the folded wing for deployment behind the satellite platform.”
Now that the first solar deployment test has been completed, various vibration and thermal vacuum tests will follow. These tests will simulate the conditions encountered during launch and in space.
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