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reaching for the stars

An Irish company's product will become the closest man-made object to the Sun

All going to plan…

THE NEW €1.5 million headquarters of Irish space technology firm EnBio was officially opened in Clonmel yesterday.

The Space Technology Centre – whose management team all graduated from Irish universities – will employ 12 new people between now and the end of 2016 as staff work to produce vital parts for a European Space Agency mission to the Sun.

The firm will be producing ‘next generation’ surface treatments designed to cope with the harsh conditions of outer space.

They’ll be used on board the ESA ‘Solar Orbiter’ which has been scheduled to launch in 2018. The spacecraft will carry a suite of 10 state-of-the art instruments to observe the surface of the star, and study the changes that take place in solar winds.

4343 Artist's impression of the Solar Orbiter ESA Solar Orbiter ESA Solar Orbiter

EnBio’s coatings will protect all of the sun-facing surfaces of the ESA craft, allowing scientists to get closer to the sun than any previous mission – and in the process making the firm’s coating the closest man-made object to the Sun.

How does it work?

Well, the company plans use a patented technology platform, CoBlast – invented by CEO John O’Donoghue – to produce a unique ‘SolarBlack’ product, which it will then deploy on the satellite surfaces.

Here comes the science…

CoBlast replaces the oxide layer of a metal – typically aluminium or titanium – with a thin surface which fuses to the metal in a single, environmentally friendly process step, requiring no chemicals or thermal input.

The firm has been “setting new records” for getting a technology from concept to flight-qualified status by the ESA, O’Donoghue said.

A complementary ceramic surface, ‘SolarWhite’, reflective white coating, has also been developed by EnBio.

Following its launch in three year’s time, the Solar Orbiter will take another three-and-a-half years to reach its operational orbit around the Sun, modifying its path by making close flybys of Earth and Venus.

The orbit will take it to within 43 million km of the Sun – closer than Mercury, the innermost planet.

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