Professor Harrison said: “It always sounds a bit strange to people to think the UK is actually one of the world-leading nations in terms of solar physics research.
“For a country that doesn’t actually have much Sun, it’s not likely, but there’s one thing where we have strengths.
“We’ve had missions over the years where we provided instruments, or even proposed the missions, which have been very successful.
“This is kind of the latest version, if you like, and the point is that all missions so far being near the Earth or orbiting in front of the Earth or even observing from the ground, you don’t study planets that way do you? Ultimately you want to go there.
“And we’re not going to land on the Sun are we? What we proposed back in the year 2000 to the European Space Agency, was a mission to get close to the Sun.”
Solar Orbiter, or SolO, as it is sometimes affectively called, will approach the Sun from a distance of about 26 million miles (42 million km).