The spaceship got off to a ideal start late Sunday evening with a flawless launch aboard an Atlas V 411 rocket from Cape Canaveral, Florida at 11:03 p.m. ET. Early Monday, mission controllers at the European Space Operations Centre in Germany received a signal from the spacecraft indicating that its solar panels had successfully deployed, it said.
"The mission will be able to look at the poles of the sun, which will be the first time ever that we will be able to look at the poles", said Cesar Garcia, Solar Orbiter project manager with the European agency. Using gravity assists from Venus and Earth, Solar Orbiter will lift itself out of the ecliptic plane, ultimately reaching an angle of 24 degrees above the Sun's equator. "Solar Orbiter is putting the focus back on the processes that are involved in transporting material from the Sun to Earth".
After more than a decade of development and five months of rehearsals, the Solar Orbiter is ready for lift-off.
Only one other spacecraft, Ulysses, has passed over the sun's north and south poles.
Onboard Solar Orbiter, you will find 10 tools to measure several phenomena and collect various kinds of data from sunlight, such as jelqing ultraviolet imaging and taking measurements in the solar wind that radiates off the celebrity.
Solar Orbiter's head-on views should finally yield a full 3D view of the sun, 150 million kilometres from our home planet.
The unmanned spacecraft, called Solar Orbiter, blasted off from NASA's Cape Canaveral, on a daring attempt to get up close to our Sun.
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While Solar Orbiter won't venture close enough to penetrate the sun's corona, or crown-like outer atmosphere, like Parker, it will manoeuvre into a unique out-of-plane orbit that will take it over both poles, which have never been photographed before.
"Solar Orbiter is going to do wonderful things", Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA's associate administrator for science, boasted.
"Together with our European partners, we're entering a new era of heliophysics that will transform the study of the Sun and help make astronauts safer as they travel on Artemis program missions to the Moon", Zurbuchen added. "The Inouye Solar Telescope is a microscope on the sun", Valentin Martínez Pillet, director of the National Solar Observatory, which runs the facility, told Space.com.
If all goes to plan, the Solar Orbiter will separate from Atlas V around 53 minutes after launch.
Enabling the Solar Orbiter's scorching voyage is a heat shield sporting a black coating of calcium phosphate, a charcoal-like powder similar to pigments used in cave paintings tens of thousands of years ago.
The team hopes this will increase our understanding of solar storms - huge radiation bursts from the Sun that can wreak havoc on Earth's electronic equipment, and could lead to absolute technological chaos if we aren't prepared.