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Watch ESA’s EarthCARE Satellite Spread Its 11-Foot Solar Wing

Before spacecraft get launched into space, they have to pass several tests here on Earth. Every element must be thoroughly tested ahead of the important journey, and that includes the solar panels that feed electric power to the spacecraft. Engineers have recently unfolded EarthCARE’s 11-foot (3.3-meter) solar wing to ensure that it can properly deploy in space.
EarthCARE solar wing deployed 6 photos
EarthCARE in its folded positionIllustration of ESA's EarthCAREIllustration of ESA's EarthCAREIllustration of ESA's EarthCAREIllustration of ESA's EarthCARE
Next year, the European Space Agency (ESA) will launch the Earth Cloud Aerosol and Radiation Explorer (EarthCARE) satellite. The mission will help improve climate predictions and weather forecasts. It will allow scientists to better understand the interactions between clouds and aerosols.

Clouds continue to puzzle researchers. Although they play a crucial role in heating and cooling the atmosphere, there are natural phenomena related to climate changes that are still not understood. EarthCARE carries several instruments onboard, including an atmospheric lidar, a Doppler cloud radar, a multispectral imager, and a broadband radiometer. All of them will offer measurements of clouds and aerosols never seen before.

However, before it begins its life in space, ESA’s EarthCARE must undergo several tests on Earth. The satellite will spend the next seven months at the ESTEC Test Centre in the Netherlands, where all the conditions in which the spacecraft will operate will be simulated. This includes the noise and vibration of a rocket launch to the severe temperature of Earth’s orbit and the vacuum of space.

But there’s one important test that the spacecraft must pass ahead of launch. Engineers have to make sure that EarthCARE’s solar wing can safely fold and unfold. To fit inside the rocket, the satellite’s 11-foot (3.3-meter) solar wing has to be in its stowed configuration. Once deployed, the spacecraft will stretch its solar wing and begin its life in orbit.

Recently, a team of engineers gently unfolded EarthCARE’s five-panel wing inside the testing facility. Everything went accordingly, and the satellite is ready to begin the vibration and thermal-vacuum tests. You can watch the solar wing’s deployment in the clip down below.

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