The European Space Agency, in collaboration with NASA, is scheduled to launch a pioneering new spacecraft to the sun: Solar Orbiter. The spacecraft will observe the star with a suite of hardy instruments and high-resolution telescopes. It will be steered further out of the ecliptic until it can, for the first time, image the sun’s poles. It’s currently slated to launch on Feb. 9 from Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.
If you’re keen to see the momentous launch, you can follow along with NASA’s broadcast tonight.
As it awaits lift-off, the Solar Orbiter is tucked away inside a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket. The two-stage rocket was developed by Lockheed Martin and has ferried a number of important missions to space, includingand .
Launch is currently slated for 11:03 p.m. ET (8:03 p.m. PT). The forecast, provided by the 45th Weather Squadron, suggests weather will be good for launch, noting a 20% probability of violating constraints.
NASA will broadcast press briefings to discuss the launch on Friday at 1 p.m. ET at NASA Live on YouTube. Coverage for the launch itself will begin on Sunday at 10:30 p.m. ET (7: 30 p.m. PT). You can watch the Solar Orbiter launch below:
NASA already has one solar explorer,, currently doing the rounds and studying the sun’s outer atmosphere and the solar winds. In late January, . NASA has often said Parker will “touch the sun” as it gets within 5 million miles of the “surface,” but the Solar Orbiter (SolO, for short) will maintain a distance of approximately 26 million miles. It’s less touching and more staring at wistfully from across the room.
The spacecraft has 10 different instrument suites onboard and, over the next 10 years, will use Venus gravity assists to get into its operational orbit. It’s sure to be an exciting time for sun science, with both SolO and Parker working together to continue to bolster our knowledge of the solar system’s big furnace during the next decade.
Originally published Feb. 5.
Update Feb. 10: Adds additional timing
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