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  1. ITV Report

Instruments designed in Thames Valley aboard mission to explore the Sun

  • Video report by ITV News Meridian's Cary Johnston

Instruments designed by scientists in the Thames Valley have been used in the latest mission into space.

A £1.3bn probe has been sent into space from Cape Canaveral and is on its way to get closer to the Sun than ever before.

Credit: European Space Agency

The unmanned spacecraft, called Solar Orbiter, blasted off from NASA's Cape Canaveral, on a daring attempt to get up close to our Sun.

Once there, it could unlock some of the age-old mysteries of our Star, and help better understand solar flares (huge bursts of radiation) which have the strength to knock out power grids here on Earth.

Dr Sarah Beardsley, the Head of Space Engineering & Technology at RAL Space in Harwell says: "The solar flares could potentially knock out telecommunication satellites, global positioning systems, all of the things we take for granted on the Earth, your mobile phone for example, can be affected by these enormous solar flares coming towards us."

Credit: ITV Meridian

The spacecraft will be going closer to the Sun than the orbit of Mercury, reaching temperatures of more than 500 degrees Celsius.

The heat shield is made from titanium and coated with baked animal bones.

It will need to protect the delicate instruments on board, some of which took 5 years to design and develop, at the RAL Space complex.

Solar Orbiter will take two years to arrive at its destination.