European Space Agency (ESA) in collaboration with NASA today launched its most ambitious solar project in outer space known as ‘Solar Orbiter’ mission on Atlas V 411 launcher from Cape Canaveral, USA. Its an ambitious project because it took nearly two decades in the making from planning to executing to history making successful launch towards sun. Launching any object towards sun for study and research on it is very challenging due to high temperature and to withstand it for a period of time. The purpose behind this launch is to study the Sun up close, its creation and how it works and sending pictures of the Sun’s undiscovered polar regions to the respective space agencies.
As per ESA’s official website, Solar Orbiter’s launch mass is around 1800 Kg and is equip with 6 solar panels and 10 science instruments will also investigate the intensity of radiation and energetic particles that emits out from the Sun and how solar storms affects the earth. Solar orbiter will face the Sun from within the orbit of Mercury which is the closest planet to the Sun. To face mounting heat temperature, the spacecraft is fit out with black heatshield technology that will ensure that its scientific instruments remains protected. The heatshields are capable of facing heat temperature up to 500 degree Celsius.
During its first stage, the spacecraft will take less than two years to reach its initial operational orbit. It will then enter to highly elliptical orbit around the sun by using gravity- assist flybys of Venus and Earth. This flybys will prove to be helpful for spacecraft to change its inclination to observe the Sun from different angles and particularly to capture images of the Sun’s polar regions which is a first attempt by any space agency. However, ESA’s Solar Orbiter is not the first mission to study Sun and its activity with close proximity. It was NASA’s Parker Solar Probe mission which was launched in 2018 to study the Sun’s atmosphere known as Corona for the first time and to explore the cause of solar winds and it is still in operational mode. But the ESU’s solar mission is first of its kind in the sense that it will fly towards the Sun’s polar region and is equipped with cameras that will take images of it for the first time while the NASA’s solo solar mission will be the first to pass through sun’s surface closely but doesn’t equipped with cameras to view sun directly. This is where ESU’s solar orbiter supersedes NASA’s Solar Probe and that the former will fly near the Sun’s poles where no other space object with cameras has reached.
But, history has been created by both the space agencies. Earlier, it seems to be a distant dream to study sun’s atmosphere at such close proximity without the nightmare of being burnt up. It now is a reality and is going to prove beneficial for human race.