Sunday, October 09, 2011

New Solar Orbiter Mission in Development by NASA

According to a recent press release from the space agency, NASA, in a joint effort with the European Space Agency (ESA), are planning to develop new instruments which will be used on a new mission to study our Sun. Launch is currently scheduled for 2017.

Known as the Solar Orbiter mission, the new spacecraft focus its instruments on the sun from a distance comparable to the orbit of the planet Mercury. At this unprecedented close proximity to the Sun of only about 21 million miles, the Solar Orbiter will be able to much more accurately analyze the sun and help to forecast space weather and solar flares.

With humanity’s ever increasing reliance on electricity and electronics for navigation and communication, solar flares and other disturbances from the sun are a much larger concern than in the past. The orbiter will give scientists an earlier warning of impending solar storm, and give planners on the ground more time to prepare.

“Solar Orbiter is an exciting mission that will improve our understanding of the sun and its environment,” said Barbara Giles, director for NASA’s Heliophysics Division in Washington. “This collaboration will create a new chapter in heliophysics research and continue a strong partnership with the international science community to complement future robotic and human exploration activities.”

The two $80 million instruments currently at the focus of the development are:

- The Solar Orbiter Heliospheric Imager (SoloHI), which will provide revolutionary measurements to pinpoint coronal mass ejections or CMEs. CMEs are space weather events with violent solar eruptions that travel from 60 miles per second to more than 2,000 miles per second with masses greater than a few billion tons. Russell Howard from the Naval Research Laboratory in Washington is principal investigator.

- The Heavy Ion Sensor (HIS)

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