Solar Orbiter

As the main driver of space weather, it is essential to understand the behavior of the Sun to learn how to better safeguard our planet, space technology and astronauts. Solar Orbiter will study the Sun, its outer atmosphere and what drives the constant outflow of solar wind which affects Earth. The spacecraft will observe the Sun's atmosphere up close with high spatial resolution telescopes and compare these observations to measurements taken in the environment directly surrounding the spacecraft – together creating a one-of-a-kind picture of how the Sun can affect the space environment throughout the solar system.

Solar Orbiter is a joint mission between NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA). It is scheduled to launch on Feb. 5, 2020, at 11:15 p.m. on a United Launch Alliance Atlas V 411 rocket from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral. NASA’s Launch Services Program is managing the launch.

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Solar Orbiter Animations

  • Solar Orbiter - ESA Animation
    Solar Orbiter is an ESA mission with strong NASA participation. Its mission is to perform unprecedented close-up observations of the Sun and from high-latitudes, providing the first images of the uncharted polar regions of the Sun, and investigating the Sun-Earth connection.

Solar Orbiter & Parker Solar Probe

  • Parker Solar Probe and Solar Orbiter Trajectories
    The next missions scheduled for detailed studies of the Sun and solar atmosphere are Parker Solar Probe and Solar Orbiter. Parker Solar Probe, launched August 12, 2018, moves in a highly-elliptical orbit, using gravity-assists from Venus to move the orbit perihelion 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. Primary science operations are conducted when the spacecraft is within 0.25 astronomical units (AUs) from the Sun, so that portion of the orbit is colored red. The nominal end of mission for Parker Solar Probe is 2025, so the orbit fades away after that year. Solar Orbiter uses a series of Earth and Venus gravity assists to move its orbit perihelion (the closest distance from the Sun) to a distance inside the orbit of Mercury for detailed solar monitoring. The primary science operations for Solar Orbiter are conducted when the spacecraft is within 0.5 AUs from the Sun.

    The visualizations below were generated before the launch of Parker Solar Probe, assuming a launch date of July 31. 2018. They are included here for reference.