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Solar Orbiter launch to the Sun

on 07 February 2020

ESA’s Solar Orbiter will be launched from the Kennedy Space Center in the USA on a mission to study the Sun up-close.

Solar Orbiter, an ESA-led mission with strong NASA participation, will provide the first views of the Sun's uncharted polar regions, giving unprecedented insight into how our parent star works. This important mission will also investigate the Sun-Earth connection, helping us to better understand and predict periods of stormy space weather.

The mission is scheduled to launch on an Atlas V 411 rocket fromCape Canaveral in Florida, USA, at 06:03 Romanian time on 10 February 2020(23:03 EST on 9 February).

The spacecraft carries 10 state-of-the-art instruments. Remotesensing payloads will perform high-resolution imaging of the Sun’satmosphere — the corona — as well as the solar disc. Other instrumentswill measure the solar wind and the solar magnetic fields in thevicinity of the orbiter. This will provide unprecedented insight intohow our parent star works in terms of the 11-year solar cycle, andhow we can better predict periods of stormy space weather.

Solar Orbiter will address big questions in space science tohelp us understand how our star creates and controls the giant bubble of plasma – the heliosphere – that surrounds the whole SolarSystem and influences the planets within it. It will concentrate onfour main areas of investigation; very broadly:

  • Solar wind: What drives the solar wind and the accelerationof solar wind particles?
  • Polar regions: What happens in the polar regions when thesolar magnetic field flips polarity?
  • Magnetic field: How is magnetic field generated insidethe Sun and how does it propagate through the Sun’satmosphere and outwards into space?
  • Space weather: How do sudden events like flares andcoronal mass ejections impact the Solar System, and how dosolar eruptions produce the energetic particles that lead toextreme space weather at Earth?

Solar Orbiter must operate for years in one of the most hostileregions of the Solar System. At closest approach, approximately42 million kilometres from the Sun, it will be at just over a quarterof the distance between the star and our planet, well inside theorbit of Mercury. This close to the Sun, the spacecraftwill be exposed to sunlight 13 times more intense than what wefeel on Earth. The spacecraft must also endure powerful burstsof particle radiation from explosions in the solar atmosphere. Thespacecraft’s heatshield is key to making this mission possible, whichcan withstand temperatures of 500˚C.

More information about the Solar Orbiter here.

2020 02 Solar Orbiter Image B 2020 02 Solar Orbiter Image C

          Click to see larger                                                      Click to see larger

Image credit: ESA/ATG medialab (main image); ESA–S.Poletti (last two images)