A DUBLIN firm has contributed critical heat-shielding technology to Solar Orbiter, a European Space Agency (ESA) satellite that seeks to explore the sun's poles for the first time.
Solar Orbiter launched yesterday from Cape Canaveral, Florida, following six years of construction and a year of testing. It is protected by SolarBlack coatings developed by Enbio, a thermal protection firm based at the DCU Alpha campus in Glasnevin.
SolarBlack has been designed to help the satellite survive despite being bombarded by infrared and ultraviolet radiation expected to reach 500C (930 degrees Fahrenheit) - five times boiling point and 13 times the level of heat experienced by Earth-orbiting satellites.
Enbio says SolarBlack, in development since 2011, provides a layer of black calcium phosphate to the outermost titanium sheet of Solar Orbiter's multi-layered heat shield.
The product "effectively acts as a sunscreen for the spacecraft", said Dr Tom Kelly, director of innovation and competitiveness at Enterprise Ireland.
A second Dublin firm, Captec, tested Solar Orbiter's onboard software to identify potential problems.
Together, Enterprise Ireland said Captec and Enbio have received contracts worth €3.1m.
They are among more than 70 Irish firms contributing to ESA research and missions.
At its closest, Solar Orbiter will travel within 42 million kilometres of the sun - and it is expected to take around two years to get there.
ESA astrophysicists plan to use the gravity of Venus to slingshot the satellite out of the ecliptic plane of the solar system and provide scientists with their first views of the uncharted polar regions of the sun.