The SOLAR ORBITER Mission

solorb_painting_big
Image 1: Drawing of the Solar Orbiter

The SOLAR ORBITER Mission

SOLAR ORBITER is an ESA science mission. Cooperation with NASA is being planned. Launch is scheduled for 2015

SOLAR ORBITER is the first mission for the sun since SOHO. The space probe should approach the sun at a distance about 45 sun radii, or 0.2 AU or 30 million km. In the process, it will reach up to 38 degrees heliographic latitude from the level of the ecliptic. The mission is planned to end in 2022.

The Scientific Goals of the SOLAR ORBITER

The atmosphere of the sun, or heliosphere, is the only region of space where fundamental physical processes can be studied that are important for solar, astrophysical and laboratory plasmas. These processes can’t be prepared in detail and under the conditions on earth and also can’t be observed from an astrophysical range. The results of the missions such HELIOS, ULYSSES, YOHKOH, SOHO, and TRACE have greatly enlarged our understanding of the corona, the solar wind and the three dimensional heliosphere. Now the time has come for in-situ measurements from closer to the sun together with images of newer and higher resolution and spectroscopic examination from close to the sun and from a polar perspective. These make promises of new and fundamental discoveries for solar and heliospheric physics.

SOLAR ORBITER, with new age track designs and the newest technology, will

  • research the unknown, inner regions of our solar system,
  • study the sun in fine detail – from the never before reached distance of 45 sun radii (0.21 AU),
  • fly over the sun’s at the sun’s own rotational speed and explore the surface and space above from a co-rotation platform, as well as,
  • take the first pictures of the polar regions of the sun from latitude of up to 38 degrees.

In this way, the plasma and solar wind can be examined in-situ from a region of the heliosphere that is closer to the sun than has ever before been reached. The magnetic field will also be measured for the first time directly on the poles of the sun. During phases of co-rotation with the sun, the probe will stay for a long time practically on one magnetic field line so that the relationship can be determined between the magnetic dynamics of the lower layers of the heliosphere and the high energy incidents and plasma characteristics in the corona and solar wind.

Instruments

The SOLAR ORBITER will make an important contribution to the understanding of the magnetic coupling of the sun’s atmosphere. To instrument packages will help to achieve this: one for the in-situ measurements of the heliosphere, and one for the high resolution solar observations that will cover everything from the magnetic field of the photosphere and the dynamics of the corona, to the distribution of mass ejections in the heliosphere.

Kiel’s Contribution

Kiel’s scientists are helping to plan the mission with the ESA