The closest-ever images of the Sun have been taken by a satellite backed by the Swindon-based UK Space Agency.

The satellite was built in Stevenage by Airbus and was launched in February. It took the images from inside the orbit of the Sun’s nearest planet – Mercury.

These pictures and data come from its first close pass of the Sun in mid-June.

Recorded at a distance of just over 77 million kilometres, they have revealed constant miniature solar flares, dubbed “campfires”, near the star's surface.

Science Minister Amanda Solloway said: “The Solar Orbiter was eight years in the making, and represents an incredible feat of UK engineering. Now, this spacecraft has helped us make this historic discovery of the ‘campfires’ near the surface of the Sun.

“This mission is one of the UK’s most important space ventures for a generation and, with our £600 million investment in international space science missions, I hope it will be one of many in the years to come.”

Rosemary Young, the lead on the mission for the UK Space Agency, spoke to the Adver days before the satellite was due to be launched at Cape Canaveral in Florida.

She said: “A lot of work has gone on there, and it’s quite a technically challenging mission so it’s been quite difficult delivering those.

“It’s going to do these highly elliptical orbits so it goes really close within the orbit of mercury, about 42m kilometres away from the sun and then it goes away on this great big ellipse, outside of the earth’s orbit actually.

“The orbit will also progress so it goes up and looks at the poles of the sun. Which will be the first time we will have been able to see that.”

The satellite itself has 10 instruments, four of which were created by Imperial College London, the Science and Technology Facilities Council’s RAL Space and UCL Mullard Space Science Laboratory.

Rosemary added: “The instruments are built to last 10 years, so by the end of that it will have got to that place where it can see the poles and that’s the aim.

“It’s going to be a fairly harsh environment.”

The close pass puts the probe between the orbits of Venus and Mercury.

The new discoveries will help scientists explore the Sun’s atmospheric layers, which is vital to understanding how the star drives space weather events, which can disrupt and damage satellites and infrastructure on Earth that mobile phones, transport, GPS signals and the electricity networks rely on.