Solar Orbiter is launched: A discussion with K. Siddhartha Sir

Solar Orbiter by K.Siddartha Sir

The sun is Earth’s closest stellar neighbor. It provides energy that allows life to exist on our
planet, but that energy comes at a cost; the sun has a variable environment that includessolar flares, coronal mass ejections of chargedparticles and the solar wind. It is important forscientists to have a better understanding of
how the sun behaves on a daily basis, becauseradiation emanating from it can affectastronauts or satellites in space,Solar Orbiter by K.Siddartha Sir.

Solar Orbiter

Solar Orbiter is 1,800 kilograms spacecraft lifted off atop a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket, rising off a pad at Space Launch Complex 41 here at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on Sunday (Feb. 9). The
veteran launcher flew in a unique configuration featuring a 13-foot-wide (4 meters) fairing and a single solid rocket booster.

Solar Orbiter is a collaboration between theEuropean Space Agency (ESA) and NASA.The mission is expected to return unprecedented data and images, as well as our first views of the sun's polar regions, and the team of people behind it are thrilled.


Solar Orbiter was designed to study the sun up close. Its main goal is to answer the question: How does the sun create and control the heliosphere — the huge protective bubble that surrounds our solar system — and why does that bubble change over time?

Scientists believe the key to answering that question lies in the sun’s polar regions. Solar Orbiter will be the first spacecraft to image this enigmatic region. The polar area holds the keys to unraveling the mysteries of the sun’s activity cycle.

The sun’s magnetic field causes all the effects we see,”. Solar Orbiter will connect what’s going on at the sun with what’s happening out in the heliosphere in unprecedented detail. The probe’s measurements will help establish a cause-and-effect relationship to what happens on the sun and what we observe in the near-Earth environment, Solar Orbiter by K.Siddartha Sir.

The mission Background

Scientists first proposed this mission over two decades ago, in 1999. ESA officials originally planned for the mission to launch sometime between 2008 and 2013. However, technical difficulties and some mission reshuffling ultimately delayed the launch to 2020.

ESA is leading the Solar Orbiter mission, with NASA paying for the launch vehicle and one of the 10 instruments on board. NASA’s total monetary contribution to the mission is roughly $386 million, with ESA contributing $877 million out of a grand total cost of around $1.5 billion.

Challenges in the design of Solar orbiter

The thermal protection system for the spacecraft has been one [of a few] challenges,” Over the years, technology developments have enabled the scientists to better protect the spacecraft and its suite of ultra-sensitive instruments. To stay cool, the craft has a 150 kg heat shield, which is built to withstand temperatures up to 520 degrees Celsius. It has a very intricate heat shield that is keeping it safe from sun, with these little peep holes that open when we want to look at the sun, but then close because the instruments are so sensitive. The heat shield resembles a sandwich, made up of many layers of titanium foil. And that foil along with parts of the spacecraft is coated with a special material called SolarBlack that was created for Solar Orbiter. Made of calcium phosphate (the same material as human bone), the coating has also been used to help prosthetics bond with human bone, reducing the chance of rejection. The bone-based coating, which covers a large portion of the spacecraft, has stable thermal properties, is electrically conductive and will not slough off over the course of the mission. White is a typical color choice for spacecraft coatings because it reflects the sun’s rays. Unfortunately, it has a major disadvantage: the white coloring will darken over time as it’s exposed to ultraviolet radiation. This significantly changes the thermal properties of the spacecraft and can adversely affect its instruments. The Solar Orbiter has been unofficially been dubbed as”Blackbird” as a nod to its special thermal protection system.

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