NASA launches orbiter towards sun, now many secrets will be revealed

Solar Orbiter launch and deployment sequence pillars

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. Every 11 years, the Sun's poles flip around completely from negative to positive, beginning a new cycle of solar activity.

Researchers intend to utilize Solar Orbiter to respond to key inquiries regarding the sun, for example, its attractive field, the development of the sun-powered breeze, and how sun oriented action like flares and coronal mass discharges influence solar weather on the Earth. In the meantime, it'll still be collecting data before it begins its main objective.

Solar Orbiter will work closely with NASA's Parker Solar Probe, launched by ULA on a Delta IV Heavy rocket in 2018.

Solar Orbiter carries 10 state-of-the-art instruments, including a magnetometer built by a team from Imperial's Department of Physics. "Solar Orbiter is putting the focus back on the processes that are involved in transporting material from the Sun to Earth".

While Solar Orbiter won't venture close enough to penetrate the sun's corona, or crown-like outer atmosphere, like Parker, it will manoeuvre into a unique out-of-plane orbit that will take it over both poles, which have never been photographed before.

NASA launches orbiter towards sun, now many secrets will be revealed
NASA launches orbiter towards sun, now many secrets will be revealed

The spacecraft will then spend the first three months of its mission in the commissioning phase, giving Solar Orbiter's engineers a chance to test its instruments.

Cesar Garcia Marirrodriga, ESA's Solar Orbiter project manager, added: "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".

The launch comes 30 years after a previous ESA-NASA mission, Ulysses, took off in 1990 and provided scientists with their first measurements of the space around the sun in an inclined orbit. Not long after, mission controllers in Germany confirmed that the spacecraft was well on its way.

"Solar Orbiter is going to do fantastic things. Combined with the other recently launched NASA missions to study the Sun, we are gaining unprecedented new knowledge about our star", Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA's associate administrator for Science at the agency's headquarters in Washington, said in the release. The Advanced Composition Explorer (ACE), WIND and Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR) monitor the solar wind and near-Earth space environment for approaching solar storms. The discoveries it makes could help us better understand how the Sun affects the solar system. Nine were provided by ESA member states and ESA. The 10th instrument was provided by NASA.

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


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