The mission, a collaboration between ESA (the European Space Agency) and NASA, is scheduled to begin Feb. 9, 2020, during a two-hour launch window that opens at 11:03 p.m. EST. The two-ton spacecraft launches from Cape Canaveral on a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket.
Seeking a view of the Sun’s north and south poles, Solar Orbiter will journey out of the ecliptic plane — the belt of space, roughly aligned with the Sun’s equator, through which the planets orbit. Slinging past Earth and repeatedly around Venus, the spacecraft will draw near the Sun and climb higher above the ecliptic until it has a bird’s eye view of the poles.
There, Solar Orbiter will try to answer basic questions about the Sun, whose every burp and breeze holds sway over the solar system. What drives the solar wind, the gust of charged particles constantly blowing from the Sun? Or, what churning deep inside the Sun generates its magnetic field? How does the Sun’s magnetic field shape the heliosphere, the vast bubble of space dominated by our star?
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