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Dark matter studying spacecraft Euclid gets its sunshield

The Euclid spacecraft from the European Space Agency (ESA), set to investigate one of the biggest puzzles in cosmology — dark matter and dark energy — is getting ready for launch. With the spacecraft’s two key components recently joined, it has now had another module added: The combination sunshield and solar panels which will both protect it from the sun and generate power.

Euclid gains solar power and protection

Other space-based telescopes like Hubble and the James Webb Space Telescope look in great detail at particular features like galaxies or stars. But Euclid will look on a much wider scale to try to capture information about the universe as a whole. Euclid will “look at about 35% of the sky,” explains the Euclid project manager, Giuseppe Racca, in an ESA video about the project.

It will create a 3D map of the universe by taking very broad observations which can help reveal the effects of dark matter and dark energy, which can’t be directly detected. “It’s a kind of wide angle camera,” Racca said. “Our target is to understand more about dark energy and dark matter which are very important components of the universe.”

Engineers at Thales Alenia Space in Turin are attaching a combined sunshield and solar panel module to the main body of ESA’s Euclid spacecraft.
In this image, taken on 23 May 2022, engineers at Thales Alenia Space in Turin are attaching a combined sunshield and solar panel module to the main body of ESA’s Euclid spacecraft. The module has two functions: whilst the solar panels will provide the spacecraft with power, the sunshield will shade the instrument-carrying payload module from the Sun’s intense radiation. ESA - S. Corvaja

Part of the design of the spacecraft involves very sensitive instruments, which could be disrupted by large changes in temperature. When a spacecraft is in space, the parts of it facing the sun can get much hotter than those facing away from the sun, which could cause problems. So the Euclid sunshield keeps the sun’s heat off the sensitive spacecraft parts. There are also solar panels attached to the module to absorb some of this energy from the sun and to provide power for the spacecraft.

There had been concerns about how Euclid would be launched. The original plan was for a Russian Soyuz rocket to launch Euclid in April 2023, but ESA suspended its partnerships with space agency Roscosmos following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Now, the spacecraft will be launched by an Ariane 6 rocket from French company Arianespace instead. The launch will take place from Europe’s spaceport in French Guiana, though it has not yet been confirmed whether the original April 2023 launch date will still be possible.

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