Solar Orbiter Embarks on Ambitious Mission to Face the Sun

Liftoff of the Atlas V rocket with the Solar Orbiter spacecraft from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida.
Liftoff of the Atlas V rocket with the Solar Orbiter spacecraft from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida.

The Solar Orbiter spacecraft is heading toward the Sun after a late-night launch from Florida’s Space Coast aboard a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket. The vehicle lifted off from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station at 11:03 p.m. EST on Sunday, Feb. 9.

After a nominal ascent, the spacecraft separated from the rocket’s Centaur upper stage. At 12:24 a.m. Monday, mission controllers at the European Space Operations Centre in Darmstadt, Germany, received a signal from the spacecraft indicating that its solar panels had successfully deployed and were drawing power.

“The spacecraft is safe and pointing to the Sun,” said European Space Agency’s (ESA) Cesar Garcia, program manager for Solar Orbiter.

Solar Orbiter is beginning a seven-year mission to study the environment directly surrounding the spacecraft while also observing the Sun, giving scientists a better understanding of how our star can affect the space environment throughout the solar system. The spacecraft also will be the first to provide images of the Sun’s poles.

Before the science phase of the mission can begin, Solar Orbiter will undergo a series of checkouts, from initial deployments and checks of the spacecraft’s systems to turning on and checking its suite of 10 science instruments. According to Garcia, the testing phase should be finalized around the end of June 2020.

Solar Orbiter is a cooperative mission between the ESA and NASA. ESA’s Engineering & Test Center (ESTEC) in The Netherlands managed the development effort. The spacecraft has been developed by Airbus. The European Space Operations Center (ESOC) in Germany will operate Solar Orbiter. The Solar Orbiter mission is managed by ESA; the scientific payload elements of Solar Orbiter are being provided by ESA Member States, NASA and ESA. United Launch Alliance of Centennial, Colorado, provided the Atlas V launch service.

NASA Launch Director Tim Dunn of the agency’s Launch Services Program, which had responsibility for launch management, credited the combined efforts of the ULA, ESA and NASA teams to overcome challenges to make the launch successful.

“This is an international collaboration 10-plus years in the making,” Dunn said. “When a team is focused on mission success, that’s a language that we all speak.”

Solar Orbiter “Go” for Launch on Sunday, Feb. 9

Members of the Goddard Space Flight Center Solar Orbiter Collaboration Project Office, along with Launch Services Program’s (LSP) Jim Behling (back left), launch site integration manager, pose in front of the Solar Orbiter spacecraft inside the Vertical Integration Facility at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station’s Space Launch Complex 41 in Florida.
Members of the Goddard Space Flight Center Solar Orbiter Collaboration Project Office, along with Launch Services Program’s (LSP) Jim Behling (back left), launch site integration manager, pose in front of the Solar Orbiter spacecraft inside the Vertical Integration Facility at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station’s Space Launch Complex 41 in Florida. Photo credit: NASA/Tony Gray

Solar Orbiter, an international collaborative mission between the European Space Agency (ESA) and NASA, has been given the “go” for launch on Sunday, Feb. 9, aboard a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket. Liftoff from Space Launch Complex 41 at Florida’s Cape Canaveral Air Force Station is targeted for 11:03 p.m. EST.

The mission was cleared to proceed during the launch readiness review held Friday morning at the agency’s Kennedy Space Center. ESA, NASA and ULA officials evaluated the status of the spacecraft, rocket and ground-based assets needed to support launch. All parties were “go” at the review, according to NASA Launch Director Tim Dunn.

Weather conditions at launch time are expected to be favorable, with an 80% chance of meeting all the criteria for liftoff. Weather Officer Jessica Williams of the U.S. Air Force 45th Space Wing predicts a high pressure moving into the area in the wake of a cold front will keep clouds and moisture at bay for several days. An onshore flow from the east could bring in some cumulus clouds and ground winds, and those are the primary weather concerns for launch on Sunday.

The Atlas V rocket, topped by the payload fairing containing the Solar Orbiter spacecraft, is scheduled to roll from the Vertical Integration Facility to the launch pad at Space Launch Complex 41 on Saturday morning, Feb. 8. NASA EDGE will provide live coverage of the rollout from 10:15 to 10:45 a.m. Watch live on Facebook or YouTube.

Coverage of the countdown and liftoff will begin at 10:30 p.m. EST on Sunday, Feb. 9, on NASA TV, NASA TV online, and on NASA’s Solar Orbiter blog.

Solar Orbiter will observe the Sun with high spatial resolution telescopes and capture observations in the environment directly surrounding the spacecraft to create a one-of-a-kind picture of how the Sun can affect the space environment throughout the solar system. The spacecraft also will provide the first-ever images of the Sun’s poles and the never-before-observed magnetic environment there, which helps drive the Sun’s 11-year solar cycle and its periodic outpouring of solar storms.

Solar Orbiter Launch Weather Forecast 80% Favorable; Televised Briefings Today

Illustration of Solar Orbiter facing the Sun
Solar Orbiter will capture the very first images of the Sun’s polar regions, where magnetic tension builds up and releases in a lively dance. Launching in 2020, Solar Orbiter’s study of the Sun will shed light on its magnetic structure and the many forces that shape solar activity.
Credits: Spacecraft: ESA/ATG medialab; Sun: NASA/SDO/P. Testa (CfA)

Weather forecasters with the U.S. Air Force’s 45th Weather Squadron are predicting an 80 percent chance of favorable conditions for the launch of a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket carrying the Solar Orbiter spacecraft. Liftoff is slated for Sunday, Feb. 9, at 11:03 p.m. EST from Space Launch Complex 41 at Florida’s Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. The primary weather concerns at launch time are potential violation of the cumulus cloud rule and ground winds.

Launch and mission managers from the European Space Agency (ESA), NASA and ULA are meeting at the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida for the launch readiness review. This is a standard prelaunch review in which all parties review outstanding items and ensure the rocket, spacecraft and teams are “go” for launch.

Two televised briefings are planned for today:

1 to 2 p.m. EST: Prelaunch news conference
Participants:

  • Cesar Garcia, Solar Orbiter Project Manager, European Space Agency
  • Ian Walters, Project Manager Solar Orbiter, Airbus Defence and Space
  • Alan Zide, Solar Orbiter Program Executive, NASA Headquarters
  • Tim Dunn, Launch Director, NASA Launch Services Program
  • Scott Messer, NASA LSP Program Manager, United Launch Alliance
  • Jessica Williams, 45th Space Wing Weather Officer

2:30 to 3:30 p.m. EST: Science briefing
Participants:

  • Daniel Mueller, Solar Orbiter Project Scientist, European Space Agency
  • Nicky Fox, Director, NASA Heliophysics Division
  • Thomas Zurbuchen, Associate Administrator, NASA Science Mission Directorate
  • Guenther Hasinger, Director of Science, European Space Agency

View on NASA Television or on the web at https://www.nasa.gov/nasalive.

An international collaborative mission between the European Space Agency (ESA) and NASA, Solar Orbiter will observe the Sun with high spatial resolution telescopes and capture observations in the environment directly surrounding the spacecraft to create a one-of-a-kind picture of how the Sun can affect the space environment throughout the solar system. The spacecraft also will provide the first-ever images of the Sun’s poles and the never-before-observed magnetic environment there, which helps drive the Sun’s 11-year solar cycle and its periodic outpouring of solar storms.

Tune in Friday for Solar Orbiter Briefings

ESA/NASA’s Solar Orbiter will travel inside the orbit of Mercury and capture the first images of the Sun’s north and south poles.
ESA/NASA’s Solar Orbiter will travel inside the orbit of Mercury and capture the first images of the Sun’s north and south poles. Image Credit: ESA/ATG Medialab

Solar Orbiter, an international collaborative mission between the European Space Agency (ESA) and NASA, is slated to launch aboard a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket on Sunday, Feb. 9. Liftoff is targeted for 11:03 p.m. EST from Space Launch Complex 41 at Florida’s Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

Two briefings are planned for Friday, Feb. 7, at the agency’s Kennedy Space Center:

1 to 2 p.m. EST: Prelaunch news conference
Participants:

  • Cesar Garcia, Solar Orbiter Project Manager, European Space Agency
  • Ian Walters, Project Manager Solar Orbiter, Airbus Defence and Space
  • Alan Zide, Solar Orbiter Program Executive, NASA Headquarters
  • Tim Dunn, Launch Director, NASA Launch Services Program
  • Scott Messer, NASA LSP Program Manager, United Launch Alliance
  • Jessica Williams, 45th Space Wing Weather Officer

2:30 to 3:30 p.m. EST: Science briefing
Participants:

  • Daniel Mueller, Solar Orbiter Project Scientist, European Space Agency
  • Nicky Fox, Director, NASA Heliophysics Division
  • Thomas Zurbuchen, Associate Administrator, NASA Science Mission Directorate
  • Guenther Hasinger, Director of Science, European Space Agency

View on NASA Television or on the web at https://www.nasa.gov/nasalive.

Solar Orbiter will observe the Sun with high spatial resolution telescopes and capture observations in the environment directly surrounding the spacecraft to create a one-of-a-kind picture of how the Sun can affect the space environment throughout the solar system. The spacecraft also will provide the first-ever images of the Sun’s poles and the never-before-observed magnetic environment there, which helps drive the Sun’s 11-year solar cycle and its periodic outpouring of solar storms.

Solar Orbiter Encapsulated in Atlas V Payload Fairing

Both halves of a United Launch Alliance Atlas V payload fairing are positioned for installation around the Solar Orbiter spacecraft inside the Astrotech Space Operations facility in Titusville, Florida, on Jan. 20, 2020.
Both halves of a United Launch Alliance Atlas V payload fairing are positioned for installation around the Solar Orbiter spacecraft inside the Astrotech Space Operations facility in Titusville, Florida, on Jan. 20, 2020. Photo credits: NASA/Ben Smegelsky

The Solar Orbiter spacecraft is prepared for encapsulation in the Atlas V payload fairing.The payload fairing that will provide a protective, aerodynamic cover for Solar Orbiter during launch is now in place. The two halves of the United Launch Alliance Atlas V fairing were moved into position and installed around the spacecraft on Jan. 20 inside a cleanroom at Astrotech Space Operations in Titusville, Florida.

The fairing protects the spacecraft during ground operations and during ascent. Solar Orbiter’s instruments are sensitive to contamination, and the fairing has special provisions to make sure those instruments are not affected by particles or humidity.

Solar Orbiter is an international cooperative mission between ESA (European Space Agency) and NASA. The mission aims to study the Sun, its outer atmosphere and solar wind. The spacecraft will provide the first images of the Sun’s poles. NASA’s Launch Services Program based at Kennedy Space Center in Florida is managing the launch. The spacecraft has been developed by Airbus Defence and Space.

Solar Orbiter will launch aboard an Atlas V rocket from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

SpaceX Crew Dragon Splashes Down After In-Flight Abort Test

In this image captured from NASA TV, the SpaceX Crew Dragon descends toward the Atlantic Ocean under parachutes during a test of the spacecraft's launch escape capabilities.
In this image captured from NASA TV, the SpaceX Crew Dragon descends toward the Atlantic Ocean under parachutes during a test of the spacecraft’s launch escape capabilities. Image credit: NASA TV

The SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft splashed down offshore in the Atlantic Ocean at 10:39 a.m. EST after a launch on the company’s Falcon 9 rocket from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and Crew Dragon spacecraft launch from Kennedy Space Center's Launch Pad 39A at the start of the test.
The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and Crew Dragon spacecraft launch from Kennedy Space Center’s Launch Pad 39A at the start of the test. Image credit: NASA TV

Teams of personnel from SpaceX and the U.S. Air Force 45th Operations Groups Detachment-3 out of Patrick Air Force Base will recover the spacecraft for return to SpaceX facilities in Florida, and a dedicated team will begin the recovery effort of the Falcon 9, which broke apart as planned.

 

NASA Prepares for Deep Space Exploration by Growing Tomato Plants from Irradiated Seeds

Lashelle Spencer, plant scientist with the Laboratory Support Services and Operations (LASSO) contract at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, takes measurements on ‘Red Robin’ dwarf tomato plants, Jan. 10, 2019, inside a laboratory in the spaceport’s Space Station Processing Facility.
Credit: NASA/Cory Huston

Lashelle Spencer, plant scientist with the Laboratory Support Services and Operations (LASSO) contract at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, takes measurements on ‘Red Robin’ dwarf tomato plants on Jan. 10, 2020, inside the Plant Processing Area in the spaceport’s Space Station Processing Facility.

The tomatoes are growing from seeds that have been exposed to simulated solar particle radiation. The plants’ edible mass and nutrients will be measured and compared to those of control plants, grown from non-irradiated seeds.

The project was designed to confirm that nutritious, high-quality produce can be reliably grown in deep space, or to provide a baseline to guide development of countermeasures to protect future crop foods from radiation during missions beyond low-Earth orbit. The investigation on space radiation impact on seeds and crop production also will be carried on the Materials International Space Station Experiment (MISSE) platform outside the station, supported NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate and the Space Biology Program, and potentially on future beyond-low-Earth-orbit platforms.

Atlas V Rocket to Launch New Sun Mission Takes Shape at Cape Canaveral

The booster of a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket that will launch the Solar Orbiter spacecraft is lifted into the vertical position at the Vertical Integration Facility near Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on Jan. 6, 2020.
The booster of a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket that will launch the Solar Orbiter spacecraft is lifted into the vertical position at the Vertical Integration Facility near Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on Jan. 6, 2020. Photo credits: NASA/Ben Smegelsky

The booster of a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket that will launch the Solar Orbiter spacecraft is lifted into the vertical position at the Vertical Integration Facility near Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on Jan. 6, 2020.The rocket that will launch a new spacecraft to study the Sun is beginning to take shape at Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. The first-stage booster for the United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket is “on stand,” meaning it has been raised to a vertical position inside the complex’s Vertical Integration Facility. In the coming days, the one solid rocket booster needed for the mission will be added to the booster, followed by the single-engine Centaur upper stage.

Solar Orbiter is an international cooperative mission between ESA (European Space Agency) and NASA. The mission aims to study the Sun, its outer atmosphere and solar wind. The spacecraft will provide the first images of the Sun’s poles. NASA’s Launch Services Program based at Kennedy Space Center in Florida is managing the launch. Liftoff is scheduled for Feb. 5, 2020.

NASA, Boeing Complete Successful Landing of Starliner Flight Test

The Boeing CST-100 Starliner spacecraft lands in White Sands, New Mexico, Sunday, Dec. 22, 2019. Photo Credit: (NASA/Aubrey Gemignani)
The Boeing CST-100 Starliner spacecraft lands in White Sands, New Mexico, Sunday, Dec. 22, 2019. The landing completes an abbreviated Orbital Flight Test for the company that still meets several mission objectives for NASA’s Commercial Crew program. The Starliner spacecraft launched on a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket at 6:36 a.m. Friday, Dec. 20 from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. Photo Credit: (NASA/Aubrey Gemignani)

Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner spacecraft completed the first land touchdown of a human-rated capsule in U.S. history Sunday at White Sands Space Harbor in New Mexico, wrapping up the company’s uncrewed Orbital Flight Test as part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program.

Starliner settled gently onto its airbags at 7:58 a.m. EST (5:58 a.m. MST) in a pre-dawn landing that helps set the stage for future crewed landings at the same site. The landing followed a deorbit burn at 7:23 a.m., separation of the spacecraft’s service module, and successful deployment of its three main parachutes and six airbags.

More details: https://www.nasa.gov/press-release/nasa-boeing-complete-successful-landing-of-starliner-flight-test