Fine Tubes to Supply Precision Tubing for Solar Orbiter

The tube fabricator will manufacture over 100 m of titanium tubing Grade 2 AMS 4942 with an outer diameter of 3.17 mm and an inner diameter of 2.66 mm for the highly anticipated project that will investigate how the sun creates and controls the heliosphere.

Fine Tubes (Plymouth, UK), a leading manufacturer and global distributor of precision tubes for critical applications, is delighted to announce that it has been selected to supply specialist tubing for the Chemical Propulsion System (CPS) of the highly anticipated Solar Orbiter project. Contracted by OHB Sweden, Fine Tubes will be manufacturing over 100 m of titanium tubing Grade 2 AMS 4942, with an outer diameter of 3.17 mm and an inner diameter of 2.66 mm.

Solar Orbiter is a European Space Agency (ESA) project that will investigate how the Sun creates and controls the heliosphere, its extended atmosphere.The contract to build the satellite has been awarded to Astrium UK, who will lead a team of suppliers, including OHB Sweden and NASA. These suppliers will provide the launcher and contribute instruments to the scientific payload. The scientific mission will be coordinated with NASA’s Solar Probe Plus to maximize the combined science return.

Due for launch in 2017, Solar Orbiter will fly within 45 million km of the sun, closer than Mercury, and will image the solar poles for the first time, helping to explain how the Sun generates its magnetic field. The Orbiter will experience levels of sunlight 13 times higher than satellites orbiting the earth and will also need to endure powerful bursts of atomic particles from explosions in the solar atmosphere.

These high-energy bursts (coronal mass ejections) can disrupt satellite communications and electrical power distribution systems as well as causing computers to crash. The data provided by Solar Orbiter will, it is hoped, enable scientists to better understand how these violent and disruptive phenomena are caused.

Paul Mallet, the aerospace business development manager at Fine Tubes, commented, “The challenging environment in which these tubes must operate necessitates traditional manufacturing processes be improved to meet the demanding technical requirements. We are proud of our flexibility in adapting to new specification requirements and of our role in enabling such exciting projects to take place.”

On its journey to the sun, Solar Orbiter will use gravity assists from Venus and Earth in a series of complex maneuvers that will depend on the craft’s attitude and orbit control system (AOCS) and the CPS for which Fine Tubes is supplying the tubing. The craft will be propelled into a 168-day orbit around the sun along where it will reach its closest point to the star every five months. At its highest speed it will be in an almost stationary orbit, allowing unprecedented observations to be made.

Steve Ashton, the product assurance manager at OHB-Sweden, added, “As a subsidiary of the European space and technology group OHB, we have been selected by the European Space Agency (ESA) and Astrium as contractor for the Chemical Propulsion System (CPS) for the Solar Orbiter mission, planned to be launched in 2017. The satellite will perform close-up observations of the Sun, and during its seven-year mission, will experience levels of sunlight thirteen times higher than satellites orbiting the Earth. We were selected as supplier for the high quality seamless titanium tubing needed to fulfill the exacting requirements of high quality and cleanliness levels essential for the Chemical Propulsion System.”

Solar Orbiter continues a long tradition of European Sun explorers, including Helios 1 and 2, Ulysses, and SOHO, all developed in partnership with NASA, as well as ESA’s PROBA-2.