Atlas Successfully Launches its Solar Orbiter Mission

Pablo Tucker
February 13, 2020

Solar Orbiter's unique trajectory and comprehensive set of instruments will provide the first-ever images of the Sun's north and south poles.

Whereas, Solar Orbiter will inspect the elusive poles of the Sun.

'By the end of our Solar Orbiter mission, we will know more about the hidden force responsible for the sun's changing behaviour and its influence on our home planet than ever before.' The joint mission between ESA and NASA is estimated to have cost nearly 1.5 billion euros (1.66 billion dollars).

Solar Orbiter - a boxy spacecraft of 1,800 kilograms with spindly instrument booms and antennas - will swing past Venus again in December and next year and then across the earth, using the gravity of the planets to change its path.

Mark McCaughrean, senior adviser for science and exploration at the ESA, said the satellite will be in full science operations mode by November 2021, which is when it will be in the right orbit.

The spacecraft and its components, including its 18-m (59 feet) solar array (as measured from tip to tip), were created to survive in the scorching temperatures of up to 500 degrees Celsius (932 degrees Fahrenheit) and withstand constant bombardment by highly charged particles of the solar wind for at least seven years. NASA says the spacecraft's instruments can collect data on the solar material and measure it. Not long after, mission controllers in Germany confirmed that the spacecraft was well on its way.

The ESA said the Solar Orbiter will get as close as 42 million kilometers from the sun.

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

The UK-built Solar Orbiter spacecraft lifted off from Cape Canaveral in Florida and is now on its way to the Sun.

The mission involves a spacecraft called the Solar Orbiter, a joint project between the USA space agency NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA). Unlike Ulysses, Solar Orbiter carries cameras that will provide the first-ever images of the Sun's poles.

Solar Orbiter is fitted with 10 state-of-the-art instruments for collecting data on magnetic fields and solar winds streaming from the Sun.

"Solar Orbiter is going to do incredible things", Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA's associate administrator for science, boasted.

Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA's deputy administrator for science at the agency's headquarters in Washington, DC, promised that the Solar Orbiter would do "amazing things" during its mission.

The latest space mission meant to help us understand the Sun is now on its way after a Sunday night launch.

ESA's European Space Research and Technology Centre in the Netherlands manages the development effort.

Solar Orbiter launched atop a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket, featuring a unique configuration of the launch vehicle designed specifically to get the almost 4,000-pound observation craft off Earth and onto its target path to eventually approach the Sun. Together with powerful ground observatories, the sun-staring space duo will be like an orchestra, according to Gunther Hasinger, the European Space Agency's science director. This spacecraft has 10 equipment installed.

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