In the 1800's Irish men like Earnest Shackelton,Tom Crean and Francis Crozier set out to explore the coldest regions on Earth. Their courage brought us new information and images of these difficult places. Not every polar explorer returned due to the challenging nature of the environment. In my mind, their heroic efforts in planetary exploration at the time were akin to going into space.
The Irish have been explorers of the uncharted poles of the Earth. In 2020 we have Irish protective systems and Irish scientists involved in the exploration of our sun. ESA/NASA's Solar Orbiter is on its way to our stars uncharted polar regions. Our comprehension of the sun is pending an explosion of learning.
Since the Apollo era space exploration has mainly involved robots exploring on our behalf. However, behind every robot explorer are thousands of ground-based people. Data and images have returned in abundance from solar system missions. Every piece of it feeds our understanding of the planet we walk on and draws a bigger picture of our place in space.
In 2020 the expedition to the hottest place in our solar system involves Irish innovation. The mission is Solar Obiter, this spacecraft launched from Kennedy Space Centre on February 10th. ENBIO is the company who developed the technology for this spacecraft's heat shields. Solar Obiter protected by this robust system will go within 42 million km of the sun. That is one extremely hot place to hang out, circa 520 degrees C. Keeping the obiter and its instruments cool is a key part of the mission.
A few days before the launch I spoke to John O' Donoghue CEO of ENBIO about its shielding product. John told me with a humble pride in his voice that ENBIO has, in fact, two products protecting the spacecraft. Solarblack and SolarWhite are heat neutralisers. SolarBlack on the shield absorbs heat in all frequencies from the sun. The shield then radiates the heat away from the spacecraft back into space. SolarWhite is used as a minimal heat absorption protection around the science instruments. He went on to point out that ENBIO's products are in use on the high gain antenna and the framing around the solar panels.
In two years, Solar Orbiter will achieve an operational distance from the sun. It will be 2025 by the time the spacecraft will gain a very special high orbital position. This will enable the spacecraft to image the poles of our sun. These areas have never been seen before. The powerful actions of our sun are of major interest to scientists. New knowledge about the sun / Earth relationship is crucial. Solar Orbiter will dramatically increase our understanding of the suns influence on our planet.
ENBIO developed a use for refined charred bone with its unique product Solarblack. Charred bone has had its origins and uses going back to America in the 1800s. There are many applications for this animal bone product. However, it took a very interesting road when ENBIO developed a system to enable a refined version to protect solar bound spacecraft.
Their CoBlast engineering method enabled SolarBlack to be applied to titanium. The system makes the bond permanent. The metal and the black coating are merged as one unit. The resulting heat shield is unique. Repurposing bone in this way is innovative. This will help us understand the star that gave birth to our solar system long before cows and people existed.
For my own drawings, there cannot be a black pastel that is black enough. There must be a bit of a cavewoman in me because I am so particular about the depth of black. In prehistoric times cavemen or women used charred animal bones to make drawings on the stone walls around them. Many stone age drawings still exist. A testament to the quality of the pigment used and the intent of the artists. Rembrandt and other masters used bone black pigment in their work. Intense black such as this gives terrific depth to a painting. ENBIO and Solarblack will give solar knowledge a new depth of understanding and make its own very different mark in the next few years.
During my 2019 Science Week drawing workshops, I occasionally mentioned Solar Orbiter. I told the kids about the ingredients in the SolarBlack product. They loved the idea of bones helping a space mission. Kids love anything even slightly macabre, odd or out of the ordinary. Interest was probed towards the future, perhaps a new workshop.
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