Solar Orbiter returns to Earth before starting its main science mission

Fri, 19 Nov 2021 01:02:08 GMT
Space Daily

Paris (ESA) Nov 19, 2021 Solar Orbiter is returning to Earth for a flyby before starting its main...

Solar Orbiter is returning to Earth for a flyby before starting its main science mission to explore the Sun and its connection to 'space weather'.

During the flyby Solar Orbiter must pass through the clouds of space debris that surround our planet, making this manoeuvre the riskiest flyby yet for a science mission.

"This flyby is exciting: seeing what Solar Orbiter sees in our part of space, and how that compares to what we are seeing, and if there are surprises, what are they?" says Anja Stromme, Swarm Mission Manager.

Despite Solar Orbiter not yet being in full science mode, a lot of science has been produced.

This time, Solar Orbiter will draw to within 50 million kilometres - providing a significant boost to the science that can be done.

While Solar Orbiter is not going as close to the Sun as NASA's Parker Solar Probe, this is by design because it allows Solar Orbiter to not only measure what is happening in the solar wind, but to also carry telescopes that can look at the Sun without being destroyed by the heat.

"This linkage science is what I find most exciting," says Yannis Zouganelis, Solar Orbiter Deputy Project Scientist.

Observing challenge But before any of this takes place, Solar Orbiter must complete its flyby of Earth.

When Solar Orbiter re-emerges from the Earth's shadow it will be on course for its rendezvous with the Sun and the never-before-seen solar polar regions.

Small satellite manufacturer and mission services provider Blue Canyon Technologies LLC, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Raytheon Technologies Corporation, was selected by Ball Aerospace to develop a standardized X-SAT Venus ESPA-class microsatellite bus and several custom components to enable an upcoming one-of-a-kind mission with NASA for the Solar Cruiser project.