Solar Orbiter ready for its journey to the Sun

The Solar Orbiter is ready for its journey to the Sun where it will orbit the star and study it like “never before”.

The satellite has been fitted inside its protective casing, mounted on top of the launcher and is now ready to fly at the weekend.

It will orbit the star, beaming back high-resolution photos and measuring the solar wind as part of the European Space Agency (ESA) mission.

Built by Airbus, it has 10 in-situ and remote-sensing instruments to take photographs and measure solar wind plasma, fields, waves and energetic particles very close to the Sun.

It will make a close approach to the Sun every five months, and at its closest will only be 42 million km away – closer than the planet Mercury.

During these times, it will be positioned for several days over roughly the same region of the Sun’s surface, as the Sun rotates on its axis.

This will allow the orbiter to observe magnetic activity building up in the atmosphere that can lead to powerful flares and eruptions.

Solar Orbiter will have to endure temperatures of more than 500C – hot enough to melt lead.

Its heat shield, with a coating called SolarBlack, will continually face the Sun in order to protect the sensitive instruments behind it.

Ian Walters, Airbus’ programme manager for Solar Orbiter, said: “After eight years of design and manufacture, Solar Orbiter is now ready to launch and to study the Sun as never before.

“Everyone in Airbus is excited and just a little apprehensive as we approach the day when the spacecraft starts its journey to the Sun.”

The Orbiter is due for launch from Cape Canaveral in Florida on the evening of February 9.

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