The European Space Agency (ESA) and the Japanese Space Agency (JAXA) are preparing to launch a new Earth monitoring satellite called EarthCARE that will study clouds and aerosols to see how they interact with the atmosphere and contribute to its temperature. As part of testing the satellite’s hardware before launch, the spacecraft’s solar panel wing was recently unfurled for the first time.
EarthCARE has a large suite of instruments for taking measurements, including an atmospheric lidar, a Doppler cloud radar, a multispectral imager, and a broadband radiometer. This range of instruments is necessary to understand the complex relationship between clouds, aerosols, radiation and climate change. But these many instruments require a lot of power, which is why the satellite is also equipped with a huge five-panel solar wing.
At 11 meters (36 feet) long, the wing has to fold down to fit inside the nose of the rocket that will launch the satellite from Earth and into orbit. To test this folding and unfolding process, the wing has been fully unfolded for the first time at an ESA test facility in the Netherlands.
“We are very pleased to say that the solar wing deployment test went very well. The timely and complete deployment of the large solar wing shortly after launch is crucial for the mission,” said ESA’s Mehrdad Rezazad. “Since we have to deal with gravity on the ground, the separate panels were supported by cables for the test. In orbit, the ties, which hold the five panels together during launch configuration, will open automatically via a set of thermal knives, freeing the folded wing so it can be fully deployed behind the satellite platform.”
You can also watch the video of the wing deployment, shared by ESA:
EarthCARE is scheduled to launch in September 2023 from Europe’s spaceport in French Guiana.