NASA-ESA Joint Solar Mission To Launch Tomorrow, Would Study Sun’s Poles

The joint venture between ESA (European Space Agency) and NASA to study the Sun is all set for a launch this Sunday. The solar mission named ‘Solar Orbiter’ would study the poles of the Sun. This would be the first attempt to have a close looker at the Sun’s poles by any space agency.

The ‘Solar Orbiter’ mission comes after a decade of development and planning involving the two space agencies. ‘Solar Orbiter’ a one of its kind mission would roll out on 9th February from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. The lift-off is scheduled during a 2-hour window starting at 11:03 p.m. EST (0403 GMT on Feb. 10).

The United Launch Alliance has predicted 80% chance of good launch weather. Atlas V rocket would be used for the mission. The ‘Solar Orbiter’ would deploy antennas, solar panels and a boom hours after its launch on Sunday. ย The orbiter would then depart Earth for an approximately 10-year mission.ย  During this period it would mostly slingshot back and forth between the Sun and Venus.

Solar Orbiter

The main goal of the orbiter is to learn about the heliosphere or the bubble of the sun’s particles that extends throughout the solar system. The mission would try to image and gather data from the sun’s poles. This would be the closest any spacecraft would have gone to the sun. The orbiter has an advanced heat shield to protect it from the searing heat.

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The heat shield includes a combination of foil to reflect the heat, aluminum to protect the spacecraft.ย  Apart from that a 10-inch (25-centimetre) gap between the main layers would be there to bleed off excess heat into space. Additionally, to keep it cool, Solar Orbiter will perpetually keep its heat shield pointed to the sun so that the spacecraft can operate in shadow.

Beneath this protective shield would be 10 instruments. This instruments would gather information about the stream of charged particles emanating from the sun (also known as the solar wind). Apart from that, they would also collect information about the magnetic environment of the sun and properties such as radiation. These instruments can also coordinate automatically if something interesting pops up.

The orbiter would see first polar pass in March 2025. However, in October 2022 it would get as close as 0.3 AU (Astronomical Units). One AU is the distance between the Earth and the sun, roughly 93 million miles or 150 million kilometres.

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