Image Credits: ESA/ATG medialab
Launched February 9, 2020
11:03 PM EST • ULA Atlas V
This mission is designed to perform unprecedented close-up observations of the Sun and from high-latitudes, providing the first images of the uncharted polar regions of the Sun, and investigating the Sun-Earth connection.
This is an artist’s impression of the Solar Orbiter spacecraft facing the Sun. credit: ESA/ATG medialab
Solar Orbiter is led by the European Space Agency (ESA) with strong NASA support (including the launch vehicle and facility). The prime contractor is Airbus Defence and Space in Stevenage, UK.
The spacecraft will travel into an elliptical orbit around the Sun coming as close to 26 million miles away everything five months.
This is closer than the orbit of the planet Mercury!
It will take just under two years to reach its initial operational orbit, taking advantage of gravity-assist flybys of Earth and Venus to enter a highly elliptical orbit around the Sun.
When Solar Orbiter reaches its fastest speed, it will remain in a position approximately fixed over the same region of the Sun’s atmosphere as the Sun rotates around its axis giving unique observations of our star.
The spacecraft will have an inclined orbit traveling above and below the plane of the solar system giving high resolution images of the Sun’s North and South poles. All of this provides a never before seen view of our Sun.
Solar Orbiter factsheet about the mission, partnerships, spacecraft, the science instruments and its journey to space. credit: ESA/ATG medialab
The spacecraft carries 10 state-of-the-art instruments.
Remote sensing payloads will perform high-resolution imaging of the Sun’s atmosphere – the corona – as well as the solar disc.
The other instruments are designed to measure the solar wind and the solar magnetic fields in the vicinity of the spacecraft. This will provide unique insight into how the Sun works in terms of the 11-year solar cycle, and how we can better predict periods of stormy space weather.
Solar Orbiter follows in the legacy of ESA/NASA missions such as Ulysses (1990-2009) and SOHO (1995-present) and will also provide complementary datasets to NASA’s Parker Solar Probe that will allow more science to be distilled from the two missions than either could achieve on their own.
Solar Orbiter +
Parker Solar Probe
The ESA Media Lab and S. Poletti produced a great set of infographics that showcase many aspects of the mission, its challenges, and the science questions it will address along with how it will work with the Parker Solar Probe. These include:
Solar Orbiter: What’s New?
Solar Orbiter: Answering the Big Questions
Solar Orbiter: Operating in Extreme Environments
Solar Orbiter Instruments
Solar Orbiter Launch & Deployment Sequence
Solar Orbiter: Journey Around the Sun
Extreme Exploration with Solar Orbiter & Parker Solar Probe
Missions Studying the Sun
Anatomy of the Sun
Meet the Sun