A NASA-European Space Agency collaborative solar mission to study from close quarters how the Sun creates the heliosphere, the vast bubble surrounding the solar system, was successfully launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida.
The Airbus-built sun explorer spacecraft named Solar Orbiter was launched at 11:03 p.m. EST Sunday on a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket from Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.
On Monday, 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.
The satellite has 10 in-situ and remote sensing instruments to take photographs and collect data on solar particles, the solar wind, solar flares and the Sun’s magnetic field.
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.
Solar Orbiter is on a unique trajectory that will allow its comprehensive set of instruments to provide the first-ever images of the Sun’s poles. This trajectory includes 22 close approaches to the Sun, bringing the spacecraft within the orbit of Mercury to study the Sun and its influence on space.
“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,” said Günther Hasinger, ESA director of Science.
Solar Orbiter will spend about three months in its commissioning phase, running checks on the spacecraft’s scientific instruments to ensure they are working properly. It will take Solar Orbiter about two years to reach its primary science orbit.
The spacecraft will have its first close pass by the Sun in 2022.
Solar Orbiter will use gravity assist manoeuvres around Venus to achieve its elliptical operational orbit, approaching the Sun as close as 42 million kilometers.
With the UK built satellite orbiting at such close distances, it will have to endure temperatures exceeding 500°C.
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