NASA, ESA Launch Solar Orbiter Toward Sun's Poles

Atlas V Rocket with Solar Orbiter Spacecraft

Atlas V Rocket with Solar Orbiter Spacecraft

The solar space probe launched early on Monday morning from Cape Canaveral in Florida US. In 1990 Ulysses also flew over the poles of the Earth at a far larger reach and didn't carry any device, a joint NASA-European Space Agency cooperation launched.

NASA says the Solar Orbiter will pass closer to the sun than the planet Mercury. It will then spend the next three-and-a-half years moving closer to the Sun, ending up in a highly elliptical orbit; at its closest, the orbiter should achieve a quarter of the distance between Earth and the Sun. She said she thinks the Solar Orbiter spacecraft can "dramatically" change scientists' understanding of the sun.

During its mission, the Solar Orbiter will get up close and personal with the Sun in order to investigate our host star and its magnetic field, as well as how the Sun influences our solar system as a whole.

"We see an event at one point in the solar atmosphere". Solar Orbiter's final schedule was dependent on its precise launch date, but as mission personnel evaluated how each timetable aligned the spacecraft with the Parker Solar Probe's close approaches, they found intriguing opportunities regardless of the launch date, Fox said. All of these instruments had to be hardened to withstand not only those extremely high temperatures from the Orbiter's closest approach to the Sun, but also down to almost -300 degrees Fahrenheit, which is an incredible engineering challenge when you're dealing with instrumentation created to detect very fine detail. Every 11 years, the Sun's poles flip around completely from negative to positive, beginning a new cycle of solar activity.

Solar Orbiter combines two main modes of study.

During the mission's cruise phase, which lasts until November 2021, the spacecraft's in-situ instruments will gather scientific data about the environment around the spacecraft, while the remote-sensing telescopes will focus on calibration to prepare for science operations near the Sun.

Atlas V 411 Launching Solar Orbiter Into Space
Artist’s impression of an Atlas V 411 launching Solar Orbiter into space. Credit ESA ATG medialab

Onboard is a heat shield and 10 instruments in total, including energy particle detectors, magnetometers, a solar wind plasma analyzer, an X-ray spectrometer/telescope, a spectral imaging device and a heliospheric imager.

"The two together are really ideal", said Guenther Hasinger, ESA's director of science.

Space weather - which includes sunspots, solar flares, solar wind and solar storms (aka coronal mass ejections) - is a growing concern as human society becomes more dependent on technology. Together, both spacecraft will provide a never-before-seen global view of the sun.

The Solar Orbiter's instruments will examine the sun through small windows on a 38-centimeter thick titanium metal shield.

Solar Orbiter launched on an Atlas V 411 configuration vehicle including a 4-meter payload fairing (PLF) and standing 189 ft. tall.

"It is kind of a golden age for solar physics right now", Fox said during a January 27 media teleconference about the mission. "It's a great time to be a heliophysicist".

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