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article imagePositioned atop Atlas V rocket, Solar Orbiter is ready for launch

By Karen Graham     Feb 1, 2020 in Science
Cape Canaveral - The Solar Orbiter spacecraft has been closed up inside the payload fairing of a United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 rocket in preparation for liftoff from Cape Canaveral on Sunday, February 9.
Once Solar Orbiter - called SolO, for short - arrived in the United States, it was taken to Astrotech Corporation's facility where technicians encapsulated the Solar Orbiter spacecraft — designed with thermal shielding to protect against the heat of the sun — inside the Atlas 5’s payload fairing Jan. 20.
After making sure SolO was as snug as a bug in a rug inside the Atlas 5 rocket’s 4-meter-diameter (13.1-foot) aerodynamic nose shroud, SolO was on its way to United Launch Alliance's (ULA) Vertical Integration Facility, where cranes hoisted the payload fairing atop the rocket.
A great picture of SolO before its enclosed in the Atlas V rocket fairing.
A great picture of SolO before its enclosed in the Atlas V rocket fairing.
NASA/Ben Smegelsky
This week, the Atlas 5 rocket will be rolled on to the pad at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station Space Launch Complex 41. According to a press release from NASA, the launch is scheduled for a two-hour window beginning at 11:03 p.m. EST on February 9. Live coverage will begin on NASA Television and the agency’s website Friday, Feb. 7, with prelaunch events.
An audacious mission to probe the sun
The ESA-led Solar Orbiter mission, with strong NASA participation, is dedicated to solar and heliospheric physics. It will address big questions in Solar System science to help us understand how the Sun creates and controls the heliosphere, the giant bubble of plasma that surrounds the whole Solar System and influences Earth and the other planets within it.
The rocket s nose cone assemble consists of two fairings that fit snugly together  protectingm the p...
The rocket's nose cone assemble consists of two fairings that fit snugly together, protectingm the payload during launch.
NASA/Ben Smegelsky
The European spacecraft is prepared to take never before seen photos of the polar regions of our star while getting closer than within 43 million kilometers of our sun, where temperatures can get as high as 600 degrees. The heat will test SolO's huge titanium shield, used to protect the spacecraft from the heat.
However, SolO also cools itself with a complex series of radiators. There are also sophisticated fault-recovery systems that will also ensure SolO stays out of trouble. "If we de-point, we very quickly run into difficulty thermally," explained Airbus project manager Ian Walter, reports the BBC.
How will the Solar Explorer get pictures of the sun? Surprisingly, the short answer will be "very quickly." Actually, to observe our star, SolO will use "peep-holes" in its protective titanium shield. These will briefly open to allow the telescopes to grab their observations before closing shut again.
Everybody is ready for the Cape for the launch of 
Everybody is ready for the Cape for the launch of @ESASolarOrbiter!
Yannis Zouganelis
As part of the 10 different instrument groups on SolO, are the Polarimetric and Helioseismic Imager (PHI), an EUV full-Sun and high-resolution Imager (EUI), an EUV spectral Imager (SPICE), and last, but not least, the Spectrometer Telescope for Imaging X-rays (STIX).
All these instruments are capable of producing high-resolution imagery, capturing features as small as 70 kilometers across. "It's amazing; every time we get better resolution we see more and more," said Holly Gilbert, the US space agency's deputy project scientist on the mission.
Suffice to say - but the launch of the Solar Orbitor has gained the attention of space enthusiasts both here in the U.S., in Europe and around the world. The Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex already has a sell-out crowd for the launch at its LC-39 OBSERVATION GANTRY, 2.3 miles away from the launchpad.
More about Solar orbier, Atlas V rocket, united launch alliance, study the sun, magnetic environment
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