Move over Parker Solar Probe, there’s a new Sun-orbiting spacecraft in town.
The European Space Agency has completed the assembly of the Solar Orbiter spacecraft, the star of a mission that will study the solar system’s largest power source from as little as 42 million kilometers away. It’s currently sitting in a clean room, and it will soon be packed up and shipped to Florida where it can hitch a ride on a rocket up to outer space.
The Solar Orbiter is equipped with a dense heat shield that will protect the spacecraft’s internal electronics from the Sun’s intense radiation. The exterior of the heat shield will undergo temperatures of more than 500 centigrade, while the interior should only reach temperatures of a warm, but tolerable 50 centigrade.
Much like NASA’s Parker Solar Probe, the ESA’s Solar Orbiter will study the Sun’s activity with the hope of shedding light on pertinent information such as the Sun’s cycle and its magnetic environment. Tiny imagers onboard the Solar Orbiter will take some of the closest images of our star to date, and with these images, we hope to be able to study solar flares and more.
At first glance, it may seem counter-productive for the ESA to send a duplicate of NASA’s Parker Solar Probe into space, but these spacecraft are very much different. The Solar Orbiter comes with a larger suite of science instruments, and researchers say the two spacecraft will work in tandem with one another to capture unique data about the Sun.
It should be interesting to see what we can learn from this innovative mission.