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Europe’s Solar Orbiter Ready to Explore the Sun

Solar Orbiter at IABG in Germany. (Photo Credit: European Space Agency)

The European Space Agency’s Solar Orbiter is ready to get some sun.

Following a successful test campaign in Europe, the space capsule is being prepped for its upcoming journey to Cape Canaveral, ahead of an expected launch in February 2020.

Once dispatched next year, the Solar Orbiter will follow an elliptical path around the sun, flying as few as 42 million kilometers away in Mercury’s orbit.

“Solar Orbiter is set for answering some of the biggest scientific questions about our star, and its data will help us to better protect our planet from the global challenges of space weather,” ESA Director of Science Günther Hasinger said in a statement.

The mission aims to learn more about the Sun-Earth connection. Specifically solar storms, which can disrupt electrical systems, satellite communications, and GPS.

“Thanks to the hard work of our teams building and testing this inspiring space mission, we’ve reached an important milestone … in Europe,” Hasinger said. “The spacecraft will now be readied for its final phase of pre-launch preparations at Cape Canaveral.”

Solar Orbiter is scheduled to launch on a NASA-provided Atlas V 411 in the early hours of Feb. 6.

Once in space, it will spend several years using the gravity of Venus and Earth to raise its orbit above the sun’s poles, providing new perspectives on our star—including the first images of the sun’s polar regions.

A suite on on-board instruments allows the spacecraft to collect data from afar, connecting the dots between the sun’s activity and the space environment in the inner solar system.

Built at Airbus Stevenage in the U.K., Solar Orbiter has spent the last year at IABG in Germany, undergoing testing. It has now been declared ready for shipment to the launch site, and will travel via Antonov cargo plane on Oct. 31.

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