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Solar Orbiter (SolO)

Solar Orbiter [ESA]

Solar Orbiter (SolO) is a solar probe intended to brave the fierce heat and carry its telescopes to 42 million km to the sun, nearly one quarter of the Earth's distance from the Sun, where sunlight will be thirteen times more intense than satellites in the vicinity of the Earth feel it. The spacecraft must also endure powerful bursts of atomic particles from explosions in the solar atmosphere. The reward will come in the form of sharp images obtained together with unprecedented measurements of the local near-Sun phenomena.

The pictures will show details down to 200 kilometers wide, with a tiny fraction of the width of the Sun's visible disc, 1.4 million kilometers.

The scientific goals of the Solar Orbiter are:

  • to determine in-situ the properties and dynamics of plasma, fields and particles in the near-Sun heliosphere
  • to survey the fine detail of the Sun's magnetised atmosphere
  • to identify the links between activity on the Sun's surface and the resulting evolution of the corona and inner heliosphere, using solar co-rotation passes
  • to observe and characterise the Sun's polar regions and equatorial corona from high latitudes

The Solar Orbiter spacecraft provides a stable platform to accommodate the combination of remote-sensing and in-situ instrumentation in an electromagnetically clean environment with 37 unobstructed fields of view for 21 separate sensors.

The spacecraft design is a three-axis stabilised spacecraft using conventional chemical propulsion for orbit manoeuvres and attitude control.

The spacecraft provides a thermally stable environment and a stable pointing platform for the instruments on board. To cope with the extreme solar radiation at perihelion, a sunshield, always pointing to the Sun, protects the spacecraft and provides openings to let the instruments view the Sun. Solar Orbiter will exploit new technologies being developed by ESA for the BepiColombo mission to Mercury, the closest planet to the Sun.

The Solar Orbiter payload, devised to address the science goals of the mission, accommodates a set of in-situ and a set of remote sensing instruments, with a total payload mass of 180 kg.

The in-situ instruments consist of detectors for observing particles and events in the immediate vicinity of the spacecraft: the charged particles and magnetic field of the solar wind, radio and magnetic waves in the solar wind, and energetic charged particles flung out by the Sun.

  • EPD: Energetic Particle Detector
  • Mag: Magnetometer
  • RPW: Radio and Plasma Waves
  • SWA: Solar Wind Plasma Analyser

The remote sensing instruments will observe the Sun's surface and atmosphere. The gas of the atmosphere is best seen by its strong emissions of short-wavelength ultraviolet rays. Tuned to these will be a full-Sun and high-resolution imager and a high-resolution spectrometer. The outer atmosphere will be revealed by ultraviolet and visible-light coronagraphs that blot out the bright disc of the Sun. To examine the surface by visible light, and measure local magnetic fields, Solar Orbiter will carry a high-resolution telescope and magnetograph.

  • EUI: Extreme Ultraviolet Imager
  • METIS: Coronagraph
  • PHI: Polarimetric and Helioseismic Imager
  • SoloHI: Heliospheric Imager
  • SPICE: Spectral Imaging of the Coronal Environment
  • STIX: X-ray Spectrometer/Telescope

Launch is planned in October 2018 on a NASA provided Atlas-5(411) launch vehicle.

Nation: Europe, USA
Type / Application: Solar orbiter
Operator: ESA, NASA
Contractors: Airbus Defence and Space
Equipment: EPD, Mag, RPW, SWA, EUI, METIS, PHI, SoloHi, SPICE, STIX
Propulsion: ?
Power: 2 deployable solar arrays, batteries
Lifetime: 7 years (including cruise phase)
Mass: 1800 kg
Orbit: heliocentric
Satellite COSPAR Date LS Launch Vehicle Remarks
Solar Orbiter (SolO) - 2018 CC SLC-41 Atlas-5(411)