The United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V booster that will launch the Solar Orbiter on its upcoming mission to study the Sun has arrived at the Florida spaceport, while the spacecraft is beginning launch preparations of its own.
The company’s cargo vessel, Rocketship – formerly known as Mariner – delivered the Atlas V first stage and Centaur upper stage to Port Canaveral on Nov. 20, 2019, after traveling from the booster’s manufacturing facility at Decatur, Alabama. Upon arrival at the port, the launch hardware was trucked to separate facilities at nearby Cape Canaveral Air Force Station: the booster to ULA’s Atlas Spaceflight Operations Center (ASOC) and the Centaur to a separate facility. Both stages will undergo preflight checkouts before the components are stacked for launch at the Space Launch Complex 41 Vertical Integration Facility closer to liftoff.
Meanwhile, the Solar Orbiter spacecraft has been removed from its shipping container for the start of its own prelaunch preparations at the Astrotech Space Operations Facility in Titusville, Florida. The spacecraft was uncrated Nov. 15 and rotated to vertical on Nov. 18, paving the way for upcoming processing and checkouts, including tests of the spacecraft and its suite of science instruments, as well as its propellant pressurization system.
Solar Orbiter is a European Space Agency mission with strong NASA participation. The mission aims to study the Sun, its outer atmosphere and solar winds. The spacecraft will provide the first images of the Sun’s poles. NASA’s Launch Services Program based at Kennedy is managing the launch. Liftoff is scheduled for Feb. 5, 2020, from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station’s Space Launch Complex 41 aboard the ULA Atlas V launch vehicle.
The European Space Agency’s (ESA) Solar Orbiter spacecraft arrived at the Launch and Landing Facility, formerly known as the Shuttle Landing Facility, at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida aboard an Antonov cargo plane from Munich, Germany, on Nov. 1. Upon arrival at the Florida spaceport, the spacecraft was offloaded and transported to the Astrotech Space Operations facility in nearby Titusville, where it will spend the next few months undergoing final preparations, tests and checkouts for liftoff.
Solar Orbiter is an ESA mission that will study the Sun, its outer atmosphere and solar winds. Using high spatial resolution telescopes, the spacecraft will observe the Sun’s atmosphere up close and compare these observations with measurements taken around the spacecraft. Due to its unique orbit, Solar Orbiter will provide the first images of the Sun’s poles. NASA’s Launch Services Program based at Kennedy is managing the launch.
Although developed independently, ESA’s Solar Orbiter and NASA’s Parker Solar Probe, which launched Aug. 12, 2018, are natural teammates. Solar Orbiter’s comprehensive science instruments and unique orbit will help scientists place NASA’s Parker Solar Probe’s measurements in context. By working together in this way, the two spacecraft will collect complementary data sets allowing more science to be gathered from the two missions than either could manage on its own.
The spacecraft’s mission to the Sun is planned for launch on a United Launch Alliance Atlas V-411 rocket from SLC-41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on Feb. 5, 2020, at 11:15 p.m. EST.