Heliophysics Fleet - Past - Present - Future

Orbits and trajectories of many missions observing the Sun and the near-Earth environment.

Content Contact:

Future

Heliophysics missions being planned or under construction.
  • Heliospheric Future: Solar Probe Plus & Solar Orbiter
    2012.09.20
    Two future missions scheduled for detailed studies of the Sun and solar atmosphere are Solar Probe Plus and Solar Orbiter.

    Solar Probe Plus will move in a highly-elliptical orbit, using gravity-assists from Venus to move it closer to the Sun with each pass. The goal is to get the spacecraft to fly through the corona at a distance of 9.5 solar radii.

    Solar Orbiter will use Earth and Venus gravity assists to move into a relatively circular orbit, inside the orbit of Mercury for monitoring the Sun.

Present

  • The 2013 Earth-Orbiting Heliophysics Fleet
    2013.12.16
    RBSP renamed to the Van Allen Probes, and IRIS launched!
  • The 2012 Earth-Orbiting Heliophysics Fleet
    2012.09.20
    Since Sentinels of the Heliosphere in 2008, there have been a few new missions, and a few missions have been shut down. As of Fall of 2012, here's a tour of the NASA Near-Earth Heliophysics fleet, covering the space from near-Earth orbit out to the orbit of the Moon. Revision (November 9, 2012): The RBSP mission has been renamed the Van Allen Probes. NASA Press Release. The satellite orbits are color coded for their observing program:
    • Magenta: TIM (Thermosphere, Ionosphere, Mesosphere) observations
    • Yellow: solar observations and imagery
    • Cyan: Geospace and magnetosphere
    • Violet: Heliospheric observations

    Near-Earth Fleet:

    • Hinode: Observes the Sun in multiple wavelengths up to x-rays. SVS page
    • RHESSI : Observes the Sun in x-rays and gamma-rays. SVS page
    • TIMED: Studies the upper layers (40-110 miles up) of the Earth's atmosphere.
    • FAST: Measures particles and fields in regions where aurora form.
    • CINDI: Measures interactions of neutral and charged particles in the ionosphere.
    • SORCE: Monitors solar intensity across a broad range of the electromagnetic spectrum.
    • AIM: Images and measures noctilucent clouds. SVS page
    • RBSP: (Renamed the Van Allen Probes) Designed to study the impact of space weather on Earth's radiation belts. SVS page

    Geosynchronous Fleet:

    • SDO: Solar Dynamics Observatory keeps the Sun under continuous observation at 16 megapixel resolution.
    • GOES: The newest GOES satellites include a solar X-ray imager operated by NOAA.

    Geospace Fleet:

    • Geotail: Conducts measurements of electrons and ions in the Earth's magnetotail.
    • Cluster: This is a group of four satellites which fly in formation to measure how particles and fields in the magnetosphere vary in space and time. SVS page
    • THEMIS: This is a fleet of three satellites to study how magnetospheric instabilities produce substorms. Two of the original five satellites were moved into lunar orbit to become ARTEMIS. SVS page
    • IBEX: The Interstellar Boundary Explorer measures the flux of neutral atoms from the heliopause.

    Lunar Orbiting Fleet

    • ARTEMIS: Two of the THEMIS satellites were moved into lunar orbit to study the interaction of the Earth's magnetosphere with the Moon.
    Note: A number of near-Earth missions had their orbits generated from Two-Line orbital elements valid in July 2012. Orbit perturbations since then may result in significant deviation from the actual satellite position for the time frame of this visualization.
  • RBSP & SDO: Newest Heliophysics Missions
    2012.09.20
    The newest members of NASA's Heliophysics fleet are the Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO), launched February 11, 2010, and the Radiation Belt Storm Probes (RBSP), launched August 23, 2012.

    Revision (November 9, 2012): The RBSP mission has been renamed the Van Allen Probes. NASA Press Release.

  • STEREO's Ongoing Mission to See the Sun from All Sides
    2012.09.20
    In 2012, the two STEREO spacecraft, Ahead (STEREO-A) and Behind (STEREO-B) continue on their orbits around the Sun. For the next several years, the spacecraft will be positioned to observe the side of the Sun not visible from the Earth.
  • The Heliophysics Fleet at Lagrange Point 1
    2012.09.20
    NASA and ESA operate a fleet of heliophysics satellites at the 'balance point' between the Earth and the Sun, known as Lagrange Point 1, or L1. SOHO, ACE, and Wind have been operating at this point for over 15 years (see SOHO @ 15, ACE @ 15).

Narrated Videos

Orbital Gymnastics

Cool ways to move spacecraft around using gravity and a little bit of fuel...
  • ARTEMIS at Lagrange
    2010.10.27
    This visualization is built from the components of ARTEMIS Mission with emphasis on the maneuvers of the two ARTEMIS spacecraft (red=ARTEMIS-1, green=ARTEMIS-2) around the lunar Lagrange Points L1 and L2.

    As with the ARTEMIS Mission visual, we show the Earth, the Earth's magnetosphere, the Moon and Sun, with the direction of the Sun from the Earth indicated by the yellow arrow.

    In this version, the satellite trails are are constructed in a lunar-centric inertial coordinate system so the trails reveal the motion of the satellites relative to the Lagrange points in INERTIAL space (fixed with the distant stars). To see another example of how coordinate systems dramatically affect the construction of trails, see LRO in Earth Centered and Moon Centered Coordinates.

    In this movie, the camera starts above the Moon's orbital plane and then slowly moves towards the Moon's orbital plane to get a better sense of the motion in 3-D space. For a different perspective, see ARTEMIS at Lagrange: The View from Above.

  • ARTEMIS at Lagrange: The View from Above
    2010.10.27
    This visualization is built from the components of ARTEMIS Mission with emphasis on the maneuvers of the two ARTEMIS spacecraft (red=ARTEMIS-1, green=ARTEMIS-2) around the lunar Lagrange Points L1 and L2.

    As with the ARTEMIS Mission visual, we show the Earth, the Earth's magnetosphere, the Moon and Sun, with the direction of the Sun from the Earth indicated by the yellow arrow.

    In this version, the satellite trails are are constructed in a lunar-centric inertial coordinate system so the trails reveal the motion of the satellites relative to the Lagrange points in INERTIAL space (fixed with the distant stars). To see another example of how coordinate systems dramatically affect the construction of trails, see LRO in Earth Centered and Moon Centered Coordinates.

    In this movie, the camera stays above the Moon's orbital plane for a better view of the motion in the orbital plane. For a change in perspective, see ARTEMIS at Lagrange.

  • ARTEMIS Mission
    2010.10.27
    An extension to the THEMIS mission is to send two of the THEMIS satellites into lunar orbit to study the magnetospheric environment near the Moon. The new mission is named ARTEMIS (Acceleration, Reconnection Turbulence, and Electrodynamics of Moon's Interaction with the Sun).

    The outermost two THEMIS spacecraft (Probes B and C) are on route to the Moon, where they will become the ARTEMIS mission's Probes 1 and 2 (red and green, respectively) , tasked with studying not only the tenuous cavity carved out by the Moon in the supersonic solar wind, but also reconnection, particle energization and turbulence in both the solar wind and the Earth's distant magnetotail at lunar distance. ARTEMIS stands for Acceleration, Reconnection, Turbulence, and Electrodynamics of the Moon's Interaction with the Sun.

    Thanks to careful planning, sufficient fuel remained on both spacecraft at the successful completion of their primary mission to raise their apogees to lunar distance, where they could receive the multiple gravitational assists needed to fling the spacecraft first beyond the Moon and then assist them in entering in orbits that parallel that of the Moon at the L1 and L2 Lagrange points. Maneuvers in April 2011 enable the spacecraft to enter into prograde and retrograde lunar orbits (the 'braided' motion).

    The direction of the Sun is indicated by the yellow arrow.