NASA Launches Solar Orbiter

Mission Overview
Solar Orbiter is an international cooperative mission between ESA (the European Space Agency) and NASA that addresses a central question of heliophysics: How does the Sun create and control the constantly changing space environment throughout the solar system? Solar Orbiter is slated for an early 2020 launch.

The Solar Orbiter will spend about three months on its commissioning phase, this time the mission team will test the spacecraft’s 10 scientific instruments to make sure they are working properly. It will take about two years for the solar orbiter to reach the primary science orbit.

Solar Orbiter combines two main methods of study. In situ instruments will measure the environment around the spacecraft, detect things like electric and magnetic fields, and pass particles and waves. Remote-sensing devices will create images of the sun from a distance, collecting information, including its atmosphere and the flow of its components, to help scientists understand the inner workings of the sun.

During the cruise phase of the permanent mission until November 2021, the spacecraft’s intrinsic instruments will collect scientific information about the atmosphere surrounding the spacecraft, while the remote sensing binoculars will focus on calibration to prepare for the science’s proximity to the sun. There are three gravity aids on the cruise phase that the Solar Orbiter will use to orbit its orbit near the Sun: two Venus in December 2020 and August 2021, and one past Earth in November 2021.

After the Earth’s gravity aids, the Solar Orbiter will begin the initial phase of its mission – at about a third of the Earth’s distance from the Sun – to launch its first pass by the Sun in 2022. Throughout its mission, the Solar Orbiter will constantly use Venus Gravity Assist to draw its orbit closer to the Sun and lift it from the plane it receives.

The unique orbit of the solar orbit will bring the spacecraft out of the plane, which is almost the equatorial region of the sun where the Earth and other planets converge with the orbit. The spacecraft that travels from Earth naturally stays on this plane, which means that Earth’s telescopes and satellite telescopes have a limited view of the sun’s north and south poles.

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