Solar Orbiter

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Solar Orbiter
Operator European Space Agency (ESA)
Mission type Orbiter
Launch date July 2017[1][2]
Carrier rocket Atlas V 411[2]
Mission duration 7.1 years (nominal)
Satellite of The Sun
Orbital elements
Inclination up to >30° (extended mission)
Periapsis down to ~60 RS (0.284 AU)
References: [3][4]

Solar Orbiter (SolO) is a planned Sun-observing satellite, under development by the European Space Agency (ESA). The mission will be launched with an Atlas V from the Cape Canaveral AFS in Florida in July 2017.[1][5][6] SolO is intended to perform detailed measurements of the inner heliosphere and nascent solar wind, and perform close observations of the polar regions of the Sun, which is difficult to do from Earth, both serving to answer the question 'How does the Sun create and control the heliosphere?'

The Solar Orbiter will make observations of the Sun from an eccentric orbit moving as close as ~60 solar radii (RS), or 0.284 astronomical units (AU), placing it slightly inside Mercury's perihelion of 0.3075 AU.[7]

A Comparison of the size of the Sun as seen from Earth (left, 1 AU) and from the Solar Orbiter Spacecraft (0.284 AU,right)

Scientific objectives[edit]

The objective of the mission is to perform close-up, high-resolution studies of the Sun and its inner heliosphere. The new understanding will help answer these questions:

  • How and where do the solar wind plasma and magnetic field originate in the corona?
  • How do solar transients drive heliospheric variability?
  • How do solar eruptions produce energetic particle radiation that fills the heliosphere?
  • How does the solar dynamo work and drive connections between the Sun and the heliosphere?


Observation packages of baseline mission definitions:[8]

Heliospheric in-situ instruments
  • Solar Wind Analyser (SWA): To measure solar wind properties and composition
  • Energetic Particle Detector (EPD): To measure suprathermal ions, electrons, neutral atoms, as well as energetic particles in the energy range from few keV/nuc to relativistic electrons and ions up to 100 MeV (protons) and 200 MeV/nuc (heavy ions)
  • Magnetometer (MAG): will provide detailed measurements of the magnetic field
  • Radio and Plasma Wave analyser (RPW): To measure magnetic and electric fields at high time resolution
Solar remote-sensing instruments
  • Polarimetric and Helioseismic Imager (PHI): To provide high-resolution and full-disk measurements of the photospheric magnetic field
  • EUV full-Sun and high-resolution Imager (EUI): To image various layers of the solar atmosphere
  • EUV spectral Imager (SPICE): To provide spactral imaging of solar disk and corona, characterize plasma properties at the Sun
  • Spectrometer/Telescope for Imaging X-rays (STIX): To provide imaging spectroscopy of thermal and non-thermal solar X-ray emission from 4 to 150 keV
  • Coronagraph (METIS): To provide simultaneous UV (121.6 nm), and polarized visible light imaging of the corona
  • Heliospheric Imager (SoloHI): To image quasi-steady and transient flows of the solar wind

Timeline and status[edit]

  • 2012 April : €300M contract to build orbiter awarded to Astrium UK.[9]
  • 2014 June : Solar shield completes 2 week bake test.[10]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "UK industry to build Solar Orbiter satellite". BBC News. 2012-04-26. 
  2. ^ a b "NASA Selects United Launch Alliance Atlas V Rocket to Launch Solar Orbiter Mission". United Launch Alliance (Digital Journal). 18 March 2014. Retrieved 2014-03-19. 
  3. ^ European Space Agency (13–20 July 2008). Report to the 37th COSPAR Meeting: Solar Orbiter Section (.PDF). Montreal, Canada. pp. 48:131–133. Retrieved 2010-02-27. 
  4. ^ European Space Agency (1 December 2009). Solar Orbiter - Exploring the Sun-Earth Connections (.PDF). Retrieved 2011-01-06. 
  5. ^ "Solar Orbiter". European Space Agency. 2010. Retrieved 2010-02-27. 
  6. ^ "Atlas 5 rocket selected for Solar Orbiter launch". Spaceflightnow. 2014-03-18. 
  7. ^ KIS - Solar Orbiter
  8. ^ Solar Orbiter overview (2013)
  9. ^ "ESA contracts Astrium UK to build Solar Orbiter". April 2012. 
  10. ^ "Solar Orbiter's shield takes Sun's heat". June 2014. 

External links[edit]