SPICE receives “First Light”
23 Apr 2020



The SPICE instrument on board ESA’s Solar Orbiter has now successfully taken its first measurements of the Sun.


​​​​​Artist's impression of Solar Orbiter.

Credit: ESA/ATG medialab

​This is a major milestone for the instrument and for the spacecraft which was launched on 10 February 2020 and is currently on its way to study the Sun up close.

The SPICE team at RAL Space has been commissioning instrument since 24 February, when SPICE was switched on for the first time. Over a period of four weeks, all the mechanisms have been tested, high voltage turned on for the detectors, and finally the detector door and two external doors opened.

At that moment, the SPICE telescope mirror was flooded by sunlight for the first time and SPICE was ready to take its first extreme-ultraviolet spectra of the Sun.

On 21 April, a long series of commands were uploaded to take full spectra in the two wavelength bands, along the narrow, long slit pointed at the Sun centre.  All four slits and different exposure times were used to check the full range of SPICE capabilities.

Dr Andrzej Fludra, RAL Space scientist and SPICE instrument consortium lead said “The eight members of the RAL Space commissioning team gathered together in a virtual online meeting to monitor the results coming down live from the spacecraft.  Our excitement was rewarded with wonderful spectra – tall, narrow peaks rising prominently above background."

The spectral lines are emitted by ions of different elements (Hydrogen, Carbon, Oxygen, Neon, Sulphur, Magnesium and Iron) and will provide information about temperatures, densities, velocities  and composition of plasma in the low solar atmosphere.  

Dr Fludra added, “This is a scientist's dream. SPICE works as expected – a great success for the entire international team led by RAL Space."

SPICE is one of 10 instruments on board the ESA spacecraft which will help us understand changes in the solar activity and discover what drives the solar wind, the stream of charged particles which are ejected from the Sun and travel through the solar system. SPICE is a facility instrument on the Solar Orbiter mission, funded by ESA member states and ESA. The instrument took 5 years to develop and build by a team of over 80 people from across Europe and the US, led by RAL Space in the UK. ​