Solar Orbiter launches with impeccable accuracy

Solar Orbiter takes off aboard a United Launch Alliance Atlas V 411 rocket from SLC-41 at 11:03 p.m. EST, Feb. 9, 2020. Photo credit: United Launch Alliance

EDITOR’S NOTE: Space Scout has been gone for a while, due to some real-life issues with the production team. But we’re back now!

FEB. 14, 2020–Five days ago, the cooperative NASA-ESA Solar Orbiter mission took off on an Atlas V 411 from Space Launch Complex-41, from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station, towards the poles of the sun. Yesterday, United Launch Alliance’s CEO Tory Bruno hinted that it may be the most accurate insertion ever done by ULA.

Earlier on the thirteenth, Tory Bruno posted this infographic of the launch accuracy of Solar Orbiter.

ULA’s infographic shows an impressive accuracy, considering all tenets of the mission. ESA Operations confirmed this too, saying that Atlas V achieved an accuracy of “within 1 m/s speed, 0.02 degrees direction”

Solar Orbiter is a mission designed to observe the Sun’s poles, as a follow up to the Ulysses mission of 1990. Solar Orbiter will take a three and a half year trajectory to get to its operational orbit of 0.28 by 0.91 AU (1 AU = Earth Orbit), and take an additional 7 years via gravity assists to raise its inclination from zero degrees to 25 degrees above the ecliptic plane, giving it a better view of the sun’s polar regions. With an extended mission, this could theoretically go as high as 33 degrees. For comparison, Ulysses orbited at 79 degrees high, in a 1.3 by 5.4 AU orbit.

Solar Orbiter is equipped with a 2500 mm (focal length) Ritchey-Chretien reflector telescope, solar wind analyzers, energetic particle detectors, a magnetometer, a vast array of imagers ranging from visible to X-ray (and everything in between), and more. Spearheaded by ESA and in collaboration with NASA, it will join Parker Solar Probe in a new generation of solar science.

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