The ESA-led Solar Orbiter Sun mission is ready to take off from Cape Canaveral in Florida in early February this year. It would be a landmark mission for the European Space Agency, as once successfully deployed; the Solar Orbiter mission will become the closest European spacecraft to the Sun.
Solar Orbiter will be launched on the Atlas V 411 rocket, provided by NASA and will work in tandem with NASA’s Parker Solar Probe which was deployed on August 12, 2018. The Parker Solar Probe will continue to remain the spacecraft closest to the Sun.
Solar Orbiter with a higher payload (consisting of 10 state-of-the-art instruments) will try to investigate the causes of the solar wind, generation of the magnetic field within the sun and its propagation through space, and also understand the volatile space weather caused due to the Sun.
The European spacecraft is expected to capture high-resolution images of the Solar poles which have never been done before. It will try to study the impact of the change of polarity of the solar magnetic field on the solar poles. To reach an elliptical orbit closer to the Sun’s poles the Solar Orbiter mission will use gravity jumps assisted by Earth and Venus.
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At its closest approach, ESA Solar Orbiter would be closer to the Sun than the planet Mercury. To deal with the extreme heat that the spacecraft will encounter, a heat shield made of titanium has been installed which can withstand temperatures in the range of 500-520 degrees Celsius. Most instruments are placed in the shadow of the heat-shield.
The scheduled launch time of the Solar Orbiter mission is at 05:15 CET on 8 February 2020 (23:15 EST on 7 February). Live updates will be available across social media platforms and the ESA website.