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A heat-resistant surface treatment, developed by Irish company ENBIO, in collaboration with Professor Kenneth Stanton and his team at the UCD School of Mechanical and Materials Engineering, allows the European Space Agency’s (ESA) Solar Orbiter mission to survive the intense heat and radiation environment as it gets close to the Sun. “SolarBlack” and “SolarWhite” were developed by ENBIO while headquartered at NovaUCD from 2011 to 2015. Using a method similar to that used to coat titanium medical implants with artificial bone, the oxide layers on the surface of the titanium are removed, allowing another material to replace that layer.

EMOD consists of four coated panels placed on the exterior of the spacecraft to test the performance of SolarWhite and SolarBlack thermal management coatings for the first time in Low Earth Orbit. Testing materials in Low Earth Orbit is important as the presence of atomic oxygen has an erosive effect on spacecraft surfaces. So monitoring the performance of new thermal-control coatings during on orbit operations will support the development of next generation satellite platforms.

A development version of EMOD underwent an environmental test campaign at ESA’s CubeSat Support Facility (CSF) in Belgium in 2019. The four panels, or ‘coupons’, were not coated at the time of these tests, which were designed firstly to assess the mechanical design of EMOD by placing it on a shaker table and subjecting it to vibrations at a range of frequencies and intensities, replicating the conditions during launch.

This version of EMOD was then placed in the thermal vacuum chamber (or ‘TVAC’) , where it was heated and cooled several times under vacuum to assess its ability to withstand the space environment in Low Earth orbit.

In 2022, the flight model of EMOD, integrated into the spacecraft, was fully qualified for flight at the ESA CSF. The four coupons are thermally isolated from the rest of the spacecraft as much as possible. Underneath each coupon is a thermocouple that will record its temperature. The recorded data will be used to assess the performance over the lifetime of the mission.

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