Solar Orbiter ready to get close to the Sun

Posted on 26 Feb 2020 and read 740 times
Solar Orbiter ready to get close to the SunThe Airbus-built Solar Orbiter was launched from Cape Canaveral on 9 February.

The role of the European Space Agency (ESA) spacecraft will be to “revolutionise our understanding of how the Sun creates and controls the giant bubble of plasma surrounding the Solar System and influences the planets within it”.

Solar Orbiter, which was built in Stevenage, has 10 instruments to take photographs, capture spectra, and measure solar-wind plasma, fields, waves and energetic particles very close to the Sun.

It will make a close approach to the Sun every five months; at its closest approach, it will be ‘just’ 42 million km away (closer than the planet Mercury).

During these times, it will be positioned for several days over roughly the same region of the Sun’s surface, as the Sun rotates on its axis.

"This will enable “unprecedented observations of magnetic activity building up in the atmosphere that can lead to powerful flares and eruptions”.

The spacecraft will use two gravity-assist manoeuvres around Venus and one around Earth to achieve the required elliptical orbit around the Sun, followed by further fly-by manoeuvres to increase its inclination and study the Sun’s polar regions for the first time in history.

Solar Orbiter will have to endure temperatures of more than 500°C.

Its heat shield (with a coating called SolarBlack) will continually face the Sun, protecting the sensitive instruments behind it, some of which will require heaters to keep them at the optimum operating temperature.

ESA ( selected Stevenage-based Airbus Defence and Space ( to design and build Solar Orbiter in 2012.

The mission’s lifetime will be up to 10 years.

Solar Orbiter builds on hugely successful Airbus-built missions such as SOHO and Ulysses, which have provided remarkable insights into the workings of the Sun.

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