Prehistoric cave pigment to protect ESA’s solar mission from Sun!

ESA’s Solar Orbiter mission from the Sun’s close-up glare is set to be protected by a pigment that was once daubed onto prehistoric cave paintings. The titanium heat shield of the spacecraft will be covered by burnt bone charcoal using a novel technique.

To perform high-resolution imaging of our parent star from as close as 42 million km, the Solar Orbiter, due for launch in 2017, will carry a portfolio of instruments.

“The main body of the spacecraft takes cover behind a multi-layered 3.1 m by 2.4 m heat shield”, said Pierre Olivier, Solar Orbiter’s safety engineer.


Researchers found that Irish company Enbio and its CoBlast technique, originally developed to coat titanium medical implants, could do the job of shielding the ESA’s Solar Orbiter mission from the Sun’s close-up glare.

A type of black calcium phosphate called ‘Solar Black’ processed from burnt bone charcoal is the material that will be applied by Enbio to the outermost titanium sheet of Solar Orbiter’s multi-layered heat shield.

Burnt ‘char bone’ robustness is demonstrated by the immaculate appearance of the 30 000-year-old Chauvet Cave paintings in southern France – burnt bone from fires being the source of the very first black pigment.