Solar Orbiter is now on its way towards the Sun. The European probe is following a trajectory which will lead to it flying over Venus several times to adjust its orbit around our star, gradually tilting its orbit (up to 33° in 2029) which will enable it to study the solar poles in an unprecedented way.
European probe, american launch
Take-off took place on Sunday 9 February at 23.03, Florida time, in the United States (05.03 CET on 10 February). After all, it stands to reason that a probe like Solar Orbiter should leave Earth from the Sunshine State!
Below, a video from the ESA, which summarises the launch stages, covering the preparation, take-off and the delight of controllers in the ESOC centre in Germany.
Solar Orbiter is a mission led by the European Space Agency (ESA). The probe was manufactured by Airbus Defence and Space and the shield, made to withstand the 520°C temperature at 42 million kilometres from the Sun, was supplied by Thales Alenia Space. However, the launcher used was American, the United Launch Alliance’s Atlas V (which is why the take-off happened in Florida). The reason is simple: NASA is the ESA’s partner on Solar Orbiter. The American agency’s contribution consists in a scientific instrument and, as you may have guessed, financial support for the launch.
A logical co-operation as Solar Orbiter complements the American Parker Star Probe which is going closer to the Sun (up to 24 million kilometres and soon even closer) with, however, fewer instruments (3 instead of 10). Putting the collected data from the two robot explorers together should enable astronomers to better understand the dynamics of our star, and, for example, be able to predict further in advance solar storms which can disrupt satellites or electricity networks on Earth.