Washington: Solar Orbiter, a new collaborative mission between European Space Agency (ESA) and NASA to study the Sun’s poles, has been launched on a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket from Florida.
Mission controllers at the European Space Operations Centre in Darmstadt, Germany, confirmed that it received a signal from the spacecraft 12.24 am on Monday, indicating that its solar panels had successfully deployed.
In the first two days after its Sunday launch, Solar Orbiter will deploy its instrument boom and several antennas that will communicate with Earth and gather scientific data.
Solar Orbiter is on a unique trajectory that will allow its comprehensive set of instruments to provide humanity with the first-ever images of the Sun’s poles, NASA said.
This trajectory includes 22 close approaches to the Sun, bringing the spacecraft within the orbit of Mercury to study the Sun and its influence on space.
“As humans, we have always been familiar with the importance of the Sun to life on Earth, observing it and investigating how it works in detail, but we have also long known it has the potential to disrupt everyday life should we be in the firing line of a powerful solar storm,” said Gunther Hasinger, ESA director of Science.
“By the end of our Solar Orbiter mission, we will know more about the hidden force responsible for the Sun’s changing behaviour and its influence on our home planet than ever before,” Hasinger said.
Solar Orbiter will spend about three months in its commissioning phase, during which the mission team will run checks on the spacecraft’s 10 scientific instruments to ensure they are working properly.
It will take Solar Orbiter about two years to reach its primary science orbit.
The mission combines two main modes of study. In-situ instruments will measure the environment around the spacecraft, detecting such things as electric and magnetic fields and passing particles and waves.
The remote-sensing instruments will image the Sun from afar, along with its atmosphere and its outflow of material, collecting data that will help scientists understand the Sun’s inner workings.
Throughout its mission, Solar Orbiter will use successive Venus gravity assists to draw its orbit closer to the Sun and lift it out of the ecliptic plane, the US space agency said.