Solar Orbiter to peek at sun’s secrets
February 9, 2020 - A European Space Agency (ESA) mission aims to make unprecedented observations of the solar surface, including the first-ever views of the sun’s poles.
The €1.5bn Solar Obiter is due to launch atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket from Cape Canaveral in Florida.
The mission’s primary goal is to help scientists better understand what drives the sun’s dynamic behaviour.
The probe will venture just 42 million km from the sun – about a quarter of its distance from Earth – and train its telescopes on the surface of our star, where it will resolve details as small as 70km across.
Solar Obiter’s suite of 10 sensors will observe solar plasma and magnetic fields to better understand what drives the sun’s activity.
To protect the spacecraft engineers have designed a heat shield made of several layers of titanium, the outermost of which is covered in specially developed “Solar Black” coating capable of withstanding more than 500 degrees Celsius.
Sliding doors on the heat shield covering camera and telescopes will open just enough to let in sunlight needed to take pictures. The sun’s energetic outbursts have the ability to damage satellites, harm astronauts, degrade radio communications, and even knock power grids offline.
Solar Orbiter is launching just 18 months after another sun-studying mission, NASA’s Parker Solar Probe (PSP), got off the ground, and the two spacecraft will work together. As Parker samples solar particles up close, Solar Orbiter will capture imagery from farther away, contextualizing the observations. The two spacecraft wil occasionally align to measure the same magnetic field lines or streams of solar wind at different times.
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