In late January, NASA and the ESA revealed that it would launch a joint mission called Solar Orbiter to study the Sun’s poles. It seems everything has gone according to schedule and the planned launched on February 9 is still in place. According to NASA, the launch will happen on an Atlas V rocket from Cape Canaveral, Florida, starting at around 11 AM ET. There will be a two-hour launch window.
As the space agency previously explained, the Solar Orbiter is designed to pop out of the ecliptic plane, which will enable it to observe the Sun’s poles in a way never before achieved. Researchers expect to get a ‘bird’s eye view’ of the poles, helping them answer questions about things like the Sun’s magnetic field and solar wind.
Solar Orbiter’s mission is expected to last for seven years; during that time, the spacecraft will get within 26 million miles of the Sun, assuming everything goes according to plan. A large heat shield will help protect Solar Orbiter from the Sun’s intense heat during this mission; it has holes for the spacecraft’s telescopes to peek through.
NASA says the heat shield will need to keep the instruments between -4F and 122F for them to function — that’s quite a bit lower than the 1,000F the heat shield will be exposed to during the spacecraft’s closest orbit to the Sun. The spacecraft is carrying a total of 10 instruments that enable it to function as a small solar lab.
Experts designed these instruments to work together in order to maximize the spacecraft’s data-capturing capabilities. For example, if one instrument detects something, it will trigger the other instruments into activity, ensuring all of the available information is captured when the event is happening. ‘This promises much more science with what we have on board,’ explained ESA payload manager Anne Pacros.