The Metis instrument will be used on the European Space Agency's Solar Orbiter scientific satellite.
The Solar Orbiter satellite, scheduled for launch in 2017, will carry out the first observations of the Sun and its environment at a distance of just 0.28 Astronomical Units (i.e., 28 percent of the mean distance between the Earth and the Sun). The Metis instrument will offer the first simultaneous high-resolution imaging of the full corona in polarized visible light and in ultraviolet light. It will be supported by an Italian-led international scientific consortium, with funding from Italian Space Agency.
Scientists will use this data to help answer fundamental questions about the origin and the mechanisms of solar heating and acceleration of the solar wind, a stream of charged particles (primarily protons and electrons) released from the Sun’s corona. The solar wind is responsible for “geomagnetic storms” in the Earth’s ionosphere and magnetosphere, in conjunction with solar flares.
Through this latest contract, Thales Alenia Space consolidates its role on this major Sun exploration mission. The company is already contributing one of the key spacecraft components, namely the heat shield that will protect the satellite and its instruments from temperatures up to 700°C when the Solar Orbiter spacecraft reaches the minimum distance from the Sun. The contract also confirms Thales Alenia Space's lead role in providing scientific instruments for space missions, as demonstrated by the Low Frequency Instrument, a critical part of the very successful recent Planck mission, which mapped cosmic radiation to an unprecedented degree of accuracy.