maxon RE 13 brushed DC motors
maxon precision motors
Fall River, MA
508-677-0520
www.maxonmotorusa.com

In 2018, the European Space Agency (ESA) will send the Solar Orbiter into space. A joint project of the ESA and NASA, the Solar Orbiter will be an important milestone in the exploration of the Sun. An American rocket will take the probe into space, and it will travel for three years until it can begin its work.

The structural and thermal model of the Solar Orbiter heat shield. (©Airbus Defence and Space 2015)
Equipped with a thick heat shield, the Solar Orbiter will change its trajectory and swing by Earth and Venus to reduce its distance from the Sun to only 45 million kilometers. No other human-made object was ever this close. The way back to Earth will be three times as long — not a pleasant place for the Solar Orbiter. At the front, temperatures rise to 520 °C under the ceaseless pounding by solar radiation. All other sides are surrounded by the eternal cold of outer space. This combination makes for an incredibly challenging environment.

The Solar Orbiter will provide a new perspective of the Sun, its surface, and the polar caps. For this purpose, it is equipped with about a dozen cameras and measuring instruments. Some of these systems and subsystems are being developed and built in Lausanne, Switzerland. Almatech is involved in the development of STIX, an X-ray telescope for the observation of solar eruptions. It is expected to yield new insights into the acceleration of electrons and their projection into the depths of outer space.

(©Almatech)
Just like people should not look directly at the Sun, measuring instruments also need protection. The intensity of the radiation onboard the Solar Orbiter is 13 times higher than on Earth. The primary means of protection is a state-of-the-art heat shield that remains directed at the Sun at all times. A few holes can be opened for measurements; however, the instruments need to be protected. In the case of STIX, this protection is provided by permanent beryllium protective filters and the use of an aluminum grid during solar eruptions. This grid can be placed in front of the 32 X-ray detectors by means of two maxon RE 13 motors. The brushed DC drives are wired in parallel, enabling them to be used together or individually. This ensures a service life of ten years — the planned duration of the mission.

At Almatech, four engineers are continuously working on the detector system, which is called STIX-DEM. With the motor drives, Almatech was able to build a shield that weighs less than 200 grams and survives vibrations during launch with no problems.

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NASA Tech Briefs Magazine

This article first appeared in the May, 2016 issue of NASA Tech Briefs Magazine.

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