Technological differentiation as SENER’s strategic advantage - June 2014 - Number 47 /Up-to-Date

SENER’s participation in the Solar Orbiter mission

SENER development for the Solar Orbiter mission.

SENER development for the Solar Orbiter mission.

The European Space Agency (ESA)solar mission, in collaboration with NASA, represents SENER’s largest space contract ever, with the engineering firm working simultaneously on five different contracts: the antenna subsystem, the feed throughs subsystem, the Boom Instrument and the EPD and So-Phi scientific instruments. The Solar Orbiter will be launched into space in 2017, and SENER’s professionals are working on various phases in order to meet project delivery deadlines for all their clients.


SENER has been entrusted with one of the largest contracts for the satellite; the communications antenna subsystem, which, due to its position outside the satellite, will be exposed to extreme radiation and temperature conditions. The project, which requires great technical expertise, has been awarded to SENER given its experience with similar antennas for other space missions such as the BepiColombo exploration satellite to Mercury.

The antenna subsystem includes a high-gain steerable reflector, the orbiter’s mid-gain steerable antenna and its two low-gain antennas. The high-gain antenna is the satellite’s main antenna, used for sending all of the scientific data it gathers to Earth. The mid-gain antenna will be used as a back-up. Lastly, SENER will supply the two low-gain antennas with semi-omnidirectional coverage, which will keep the satellite in permanent contact with Earth even when it has lost its orientation and none of the other antennas can be oriented towards the Earth.

SENER’s team is currently closing the subsystem’s detail design phase, while it works in parallel to qualify all of its required critical technologies. The team is also in the process of building, assembling and testing the thermal and structural, engineering and qualification models to verify the design prior to the production of the flight hardware. The test results from these models will be used for SENER’s subcontractor critical design reviews (CDRs), and ultimately for the CDR of the entire antenna subsystem, in order to commence the flight model activities in the third quarter of 2014.


Similarly, SENER is also in charge of the Instrument Boom subsystem, which consists of a retractable boom carrying four instruments that are highly sensitive to magnetic fields. The boom acts to move the instruments away from the electromagnetic disturbances generated by the satellite’s equipment while it is operating. The subsystem consists of three rigid structural segments, two deployment mechanisms and three hold down and release mechanisms. Once in deployed position, it measures 4.4 m long.

The Instrument Boom has already passed its preliminary design review, although the length of the booms was subsequently modified and one of the sensors was eliminated: the EPD-STEIN sensor, which will no longer be mounted on the boom. SENER is currently building the qualification model, which will be delivered to the client in September 2014. After reaching this milestone, the flight model (FM) will be built, with an expected delivery date in June 2015.

Feed throughs subsystem SENER is also responsible for the feed troughs subsystem: through-wall filters that provide the satellite with non-hermetic protective covering for its remote detection instruments. The firm has already built and delivered most of the test or ‘dummy’ models, and it is now constructing the engineering qualification models (EQMs), with their CDR scheduled for the first half of 2014. Feed throughs classification will begin after this review. The delivery of the FMs is slated for late 2014/early 2015. One of the technological innovations SENER’s team produced for this project was the use of coatings using the physical vapor disposition (PVD) method, which is yielding excellent results.

The EPD instrument SENER is also participating on two of the on board scientific instruments. One of them is the EPD (Energetic Particle Detector), which will analyze high energy particles and whose research was mainly conducted by the University of Alcalá (Spain). SENER is providing the systems engineering, quality control and electronic, mechanical and thermal engineering and software consulting for the university.

The EPD is a unique instrument, since it consists of an instrument control unit (ICU) that controls six sensors with four different types: EPT (Electron Proton Telescope), HET (High Energy Telescope), SIS (Suprathermal Ion Spectrograph) and STEP (Suprathermal Electrons & Protons). In September of 2013, the structural thermal model (STM) was delivered for the EPT and HET sensors. It bears noting that the EPD was the first instrument to deliver an STM model for the Solar Orbiter.

SENER has passed the critical design review (CDR) for the EPD, and is now working on the engineering model (EM), which is projected for delivery in June 2014. This will be followed by the EQM model tests in late 2014 and the flight model delivery, scheduled for July 2015.


The second Solar Orbiter’s scientific instrument on which SENER is participating is the So-Phi: a super high performance camera for taking high-resolution pictures and full-disk measurements of the photospheric magnetic field and line-of-sight velocity, as well as the continuum intensity in the visible wavelength range. The accuracy and stability of the velocity maps obtained by So-Phi will make helioseismic investigations of the solar interior possible.

The IAA (Instituto Astrofísico de Andalucía), in Spain, is in charge of the So-Phi instrument, and SENER is responsible for the system engineering for the project, in addition to conducting its quality control and building and testing all of the e-units and the correlator camera (CTC).

So-Phi passed its critical design review in 2013 and the STM model has already been delivered. SENER is building the qualification model which is expected to be completed and delivered by September of 2014. As with the EPD instrument, the flight model is slated for delivery in June 2015.


STM model of the So-Phi instrument during its vibration tests.  Solar Orbiter misión ©NASA   Instrument Boom design.  Solar Orbiter’s mid-gain antenna design.

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