An exciting mission launched by the European Space Agency will help us better understand solar winds.
By Luke Fillers, Staff Writer
In the late evening of Sunday, Feb. 9, 2020, the European Space Agency, in association with NASA, launched an Atlas V 411 rocket. The rocket contains a solar orbiter satellite, which will conduct a more in-depth exploration of the sun.
“Solar Orbiter is the seventh spacecraft built by the European Space Agency (ESA) to study the sun and how it affects Earth,” states Chris Gebhardt in an article published on nasaspaceflight.com. “The Solar Orbiter will be the first spacecraft to ever capture photographs and video of the sun’s poles.”
This mission will provide more information on how the sun’s solar winds are created and how they affect the heliosphere, the region that surrounds the sun. This information will further scientist’s research on the sun and produce a better understanding of how to predict these solar winds and their effects on Earth.
“The spacecraft will make looping orbits around the sun and use 10 instruments to observe solar physics in unprecedented detail,” according to the United Launch Alliance, a US launch service that operates rocket vehicles capable of orbiting spacecraft. “At closest approach, Solar Orbiter will be approximately 26 million miles from the sun.”
In 2018, NASA launched the Parker Solar Probe that is also currently studying the sun. The Parker Solar Probe will be an additional asset to the ESA Solar Orbiter. The combination of the two probes will gather new understanding and information about the heliosphere, the sun’s magnetic field, and how solar wind is generated.
The Solar Orbiter is part of a larger plan of the European Space Agency to explore how the solar system operates and how it will affect Earth’s future.
According to Gebhardt, “It will take the spacecraft two years to reach its operational orbit, which will then be followed by five years of a primary scientific mission. Solar Orbiter carries enough onboard propellant that its mission can be extended to at least 10 years total.”