The European Space Agency spacecraft — built by Airbus and scheduled to launch in February 2019 — is dedicated to solar and heliospheric physics.
In the wake of the recent total solar eclipse across the U.S., Airbus is highlighting progress on the European Space Agency’s Solar Orbiter spacecraft, currently in the final stages of integration at the Airbus spacecraft assembly hall in Stevenage, UK. Dedicated to solar and heliospheric physics, Solar Orbiter is currently scheduled to launch in February 2019.
For scientists, the total eclipse provides a spectacular view of the solar corona, the one million degree “halo” around the sun that can only be seen from Earth when the Moon passes in front of the bright solar disk, which otherwise completely drowns out the faint light of the corona.
Launched into a close orbit around the Sun, Solar Orbiter will allow scientists to study the solar corona in much more detail, for much longer periods, and at a much closer distance that can ever be reached here on the ground or by any spacecraft circling the Earth.
Ten instruments will be flown that will study not only the corona but the Sun’s disk, the solar wind and the solar magnetic fields which will give unprecedented insight into how the Sun works, and how periods of stormy “space-weather” cab be predicted.
The last of the ten instruments is being installed this month and the next step is system testing before the heatshield, antennas and boom are added towards the end of the year. In addition, the first instrument end-to-end electrical test has been performed.
By the time of the next global total eclipse, across the Pacific Ocean and South America on 2nd July 2019, Solar Orbiter will have begun its three and a half year journey to the inner solar system to get close to our Sun.