RPW

The Solar Orbiter Mission

Wednesday 11 December 2013, by Milan Maksimovic

Solar Orbiter is a mission dedicated to solar and heliospheric physics. It was selected as the first medium-class mission of ESA’s Cosmic Vision 2015-2025 Programme. Presently, the spacecraft is supposed to be launched in July 2017.

The Solar Orbiter mission aims to make significant breakthroughs in our understanding both of how the inner heliosphere works, and of the effects of solar activity on it. The spacecraft will take a unique combination of measurements: in situ measurements will be used alongside remote sensing close to the Sun to relate these measurements back to their source regions and structures on the Sun’s surface. It will operate both in and out of the ecliptic plane. Solar Orbiter will measure solar wind plasma, fields, waves and energetic particles close enough to the Sun to ensure that they are still relatively pristine.

The top level science questions of the mission are :

  • How and where do the solar wind plasma and magnetic field originate in the corona?
  • How do solar transients drive heliospheric variability?
  • How do solar eruptions produce energetic particle radiation that fills the heliosphere?
  • How does the solar dynamo work and drive connections between the Sun and the heliosphere?

More information can be found on the ESA Solar Orbiter website.