WASHINGTON — The European Space Agency has awarded Airbus Defence and Space a contract to build a spacecraft that will provide a unique view of the sun.

ESA held a signing ceremony May 22 in Brussels for a contract valued at 340 million euros ($369 million) for the Vigil spacecraft. Airbus will build Vigil at its facilities at Stevenage in the United Kingdom.

Slated to launch in 2031, Vigil will operate at the Earth-sun L-5 Lagrange point, trailing the Earth by 60 degrees in its orbit. It will complement spacecraft at the L-1 point, between the Earth and the sun, by viewing regions of the sun before they rotate into view of the Earth, thus providing advance warning of solar activity.

“Data from Vigil can give us an unprecedented notice of up to four to five days for certain space weather effects traveling to Earth,” said Giuseppe Mandorlo, ESA project manager for Vigil, in a statement. “From its vantage point from the ‘side’, Vigil can also observe much more clearly the speed, direction and chance of impact of coronal mass ejections.”

“Vigil will be Europe’s first 24/7 operational space weather satellite, providing valuable time to protect critical infrastructure such as power grids or mobile communication networks on Earth as well as valuable satellites in Earth orbit,” said ESA Director General Josef Aschbacher in a statement. “Vigil will drastically improve both the lead time of space weather warnings as well as their level of detail from its unique vantage point in deep space.”

British officials said development of Vigil will support more than 150 jobs in the country. “The development of the Vigil space weather mission, right here on British soil in Stevenage, is a testament to our central role within the European Space Agency and our world-class expertise in space manufacturing,” said Andrew Griffith, minister for space in the British government, said.

Vigil will carry six instruments, four of which from European institutes. The National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration in the United States is providing another instrument, a compact coronagraph based on designs developed at the Naval Research Lab flying on the GOES-U weather satellite launching in June and the Space Weather Follow On L-1 mission in 2025.

NASA announced May 20 it will develop the Joint EUV coronal Diagnostic Investigation, or JEDI, instrument that will also go on Vigil. JEDI will provide extreme ultraviolet observations of the sun. The Southwest Research Institute will lead development of JEDI under a $45 million NASA contract.

Jeff Foust writes about space policy, commercial space, and related topics for SpaceNews. He earned a Ph.D. in planetary sciences from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a bachelor’s degree with honors in geophysics and planetary science...