Space is an extreme environment. With the severe temperatures, endless debris, and harsh radiation, how do spacecraft survive?
Living down here on Earth, it’s easy to forget that we have it pretty good, at least in terms of our environment not doing everything it can to destroy us and everything we love! That’s not the case in space, and scientists have had to solve all sorts of challenges to keep space stations, probes, and satellites functioning in such an extreme environment. For example, they have to engineer their way around problems like temperature.
Space can be extremely cold; the background temperature of space is minus two hundred seventy degrees celsius in the shade, just a few degrees above absolute zero. In direct sunlight, radiation can warm a spacecraft hundreds of degrees, especially when it’s closer to the sun.
Extreme temperatures can damage or shatter delicate equipment, and depending on the mission, engineers will have to either insulate their spacecraft from the cold or protect it from the heat. Sometimes they’ll have to do both!
The European Space Agency’s Rosetta mission had to chase down a comet. To get there Rosetta had to do several planetary flybys before heading out towards the asteroid belt. On its ten year journey it went through wild temperature fluctuations, so to overcome this engineers fitted Rosetta with metal slats or “louvres” that could open to let heat radiate away or close to trap it and keep the probe warm.
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