An international collaboration between the European Space Agency (ESA) and NASA, launched the Solar Orbiter on its journey to study our closest star – the Sun.
UNITED STATES – Lift off from launch site complex 41 Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, Solar Orbiter began its mission Sunday evening.
This was made possible by an army of scientists and engineers from America and Europe. They hope this mission will shed more light on our star’s generates its magnetic field and how the burning gasses that erupt within our sun causes space storms that reacts with space to affect our electrical equipment in and around our planet.
Costing around $1.6 billion dollars, the space craft is designed to carry a lot of instruments critical to its mission. These include antennas for communication with mission control; high tech cameras to take images of the sun’s poles – which would be the first ever images we would see of the sun’s poles and other high tech instruments for measuring the solar wind and distances.
European Space Agency director of Science Günther Hasinger has this to say about the mission
“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,”
Breakdown of its mission includes:
- Solar Orbiter will deploy its instrument boom and several antennas in the first two days after launch.
- Three months into the journey, scientists in mission control will carry out tests/checks on all 10 instruments on-board Solar Orbiter to make sure they are all operational.
- It will take Solar Orbiter about two years to reach its primary science orbit.
- Solar Orbiter will combine two main modes for this part of the mission. The In-situ instruments will measure the environment around the spacecraft, detecting such things as electric and magnetic fields and passing particles and waves.
- The next mode will be for the remote-sensing instruments and telescope to image the Sun from afar, along with its atmosphere and its outflow of material, collecting data that will help scientists understand the Sun’s inner workings.
Three gravity assist to help solar orbit get closer to the sun will take place near planet Venus in December 2020 and August 2021, and one past Earth in November 2021 bringing the space craft closer to its primary phase where its first close up pass by the sun in the year 2022.
“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.”
said Günther Hasinger, ESA director of Science
The mission program is set to last for 11 years after which Solar Orbiter will run out of fuel and power and communication with it will be lost.
After that, the spacecraft will become a piece of space junk and will continue to orbit the Sun somewhere between Mercury and Venus