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Space mission scientists share their cosmic vision

Solar Orbiter

Imperial scientists are planning to take physics to new limits with two missions given the rubber stamp by the European Space Agency. Listen to interviews with Tim Horbury, Helen O'Brien and Steve Warren - News

by Simon Levey
25 October 2011

Imperial scientists are planning to take physics to new limits with two missions given the rubber stamp by the European Space Agency (ESA) this month, known as Solar Orbiter and Euclid.

The Solar Orbiter mission will travel closer to the Sun than any other, measuring our star's magnetic field and improving our understanding of how solar activity and the harsh solar wind affect the Earth.

Professor Tim Horbury from Imperial's Space and Atmospheric Physics Group, who leads Solar Orbiter's magnetometer team, said: "Solar Orbiter will give us our first good view of the Sun's polar regions and a unique close-up view of the Sun's atmosphere and how it blows past the Earth and out to the far solar system."

In the interview below, Professor Horbury and lead engineer Helen O'Brien from the Solar Orbiter mission show off the prototype kit in their mission lab and explain why it won't be possible to send a manned mission to the sun just yet.

Watch a video of the planned Solar Orbiter mission at the ESA website.

Space mission scientists share their cosmic vision - Solar Orbiter
click to play video

The Euclid mission will address key questions of dark energy and dark matter, which are fundamental to physics and cosmology, and search for clues to the early expansion of the universe. Through a massive 'near-infrared digital camera', Euclid will survey far distant parts of space using faint light that started its journey shortly after the event of the Big Bang.

Professor Steve Warren from Imperial's Astrophysics Group, who coordinates the Legacy Science teams of Euclid, said: "Euclid's highly detailed deep space maps will contain images of more than a billion galaxies and a treasure trove of rare and fascinating objects like brown dwarfs, faint halo stars, luminous giant galaxies and quasars."

In the interview below, Professor Warren discusses what we can learn about the early universe from the deep near-infrared survey of the sky to be undertaken by Euclid.

Space mission scientists share their cosmic vision - Euclid
click to play video

ESA announced funding for the Solar Orbiter and Euclid projects on 5 October. They will be designed, tested and built across the continent, and launched between 2017 and 2019. Scientists and engineers from Imperial's Department of Physics have been closely involved in the development of both projects, which draw on academic expertise and collaborations with high-tech industries.

The Solar Orbiter and Euclid missions won financial backing after being selected from over 50 other proposals in ESA's Cosmic Vision strategy. Both are also supported by the UK Space Agency.

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