Solar Orbiter, a new collaborative mission between the European Space Agency (ESA) and NASA to study our Sun, launched at 05:03 CET on February 10, 2020 (11:03 p.m. EST on February 9) on an Atlas V 411 rocket from Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. At 06:03 CET (12:24 a.m. EST), mission controllers at the European Space Operations Centre in Darmstadt, Germany, received a signal from the spacecraft indicating that its solar panels had successfully deployed. In the first two days after launch, Solar Orbiter will deploy its instrument boom and several antennas that will communicate with Earth and gather scientific data.
Source: Sci News
Solar Orbiter will view some of the never-before-seen regions of the Sun, including the poles, and shed new light on some of the little understood aspects of the star’s activity, such as the formation of the solar wind.
The mission will also provide data about the Sun’s magnetic field and how it arises.
Knowledge of our nearest star is key to unraveling how stars work in the Universe, but understanding solar activity is also critical for the infrastructure on and around Earth.
Powerful ejections of solar plasma can cause geomagnetic storms that disrupt electrical and telecommunication networks on the ground as well as the operations of satellites orbiting our planet.
Solar Orbiter will get as close as 42 million km (26.1 million miles) to the Sun, about a quarter of the distance between the Sun and Earth.
The spacecraft and its components, including its 18-m (59 feet) solar array (as measured from tip to tip), were designed 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.
“As humans, we have always been familiar with the importance of the Sun to life on Earth, observing it and investigating how it works in detail, but we have also long known it has the potential to disrupt everyday life should we be in the firing line of a powerful solar storm,” said Dr. Günther Hasinger, ESA Director of Science.
“By the end of our Solar Orbiter mission, we will know more about the hidden force responsible for the Sun’s changing behavior and its influence on our home planet than ever before.”
“Solar Orbiter is going to do amazing things,” said Dr. Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA’s associate administrator for Science at the agency’s headquarters in Washington.
“Combined with the other recently launched NASA missions to study the Sun, we are gaining unprecedented new knowledge about our star.”
“Together with our European partners, we’re entering a new era of heliophysics that will transform the study of the Sun and help make astronauts safer as they travel on Artemis program missions to the Moon.”
“After some twenty years since inception, six years of construction, and more than a year of testing, together with our industrial partners we have established new high-temperature technologies and completed the challenge of building a spacecraft that is ready to face the Sun and study it up close,” said Dr. César García Marirrodriga, ESA’s Solar Orbiter project manager.
Source: Sci News