ESA’s Solar Orbiter Will Launch Two Days After the Scheduled Date

Managers have postponed the launch of a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas 5 rocket having on board the European-designed Solar Orbiter spacecraft, by two days. The take-off is now supposed to take place at Cape Canaveral on February 7th.

The delay is a corrugation effect from time used to fix a minor issue the previous week during a take-off a launch vehicle countdown dress rehearsal. The European Space Agency (ESA), which leads the Solar Orbiter expedition in collaboration with NASA, reported the two-day stall on Sunday. The new launch framework opens at 11.15 p.m. EST (04.15 GMT) on February 7th and extends to 1.15 a.m. EST (06.15 GMT) on February 8th.

The Reason Behind the Delay

The Solar Orbiter expedition has a 19-day launch window in February – starting with the 5th – to get the probe on a trajectory to reach Venus in December when the spacecraft will use the planet’s gravity to propel itself into an orbit at closer proximity to the Sun.

The launch delay was expected after ULA teams found an air conditioning pipe leading to the Atlas 5’s Centaur upper stage was not connected. The company then stranded the Atlas 5 rocket back to its vertical shelter for examinations, and teams re-established contact between the Atlas 5 and its launch vehicle. Solar Orbiter was locked inside the Atlas 5’s rocket cargo; the operating teams will transfer the spacecraft to pad 41 in the following days for the lifting the rocket on top, inside the VIF.

For the Solar Orbiter expedition, the Atlas 5 will be transported in the rarely-used ‘411’ build with a 4-meter (13-foot) fairing, one strapped solid rocket booster, and a Centaur upper stage fueled by one RL10 engine. Solar Orbiter’s takeoff will be the 82nd flight of the Atlas 5 rocket since 2020, and the sixth flight in which Atlas 5 uses the 411 version.

Solar Orbiter Will Capture the First-Ever Image of the Sun’s Poles

There are ten different scientific tools on board of the Solar Orbiter that will calculate the Sun’s output and capture the first accurate images of the Sun’s poles. Researchers will use the data gathered by Solar Orbiter, together with observations from NASA’s Parker Solar Probe, to better comprehend the cause behind the solar wind, and what originates the 11-year solar cycle.

After a number of gravity assist orbits of Venus, Solar Orbiter’s path around the Sun will become slopped away from the plane of the planets, enabling the probe to capture images of the Sun’s poles for the first time ever.

“Solar Orbiter is clearly a new class in its own,” said Günther Hasinger, director of ESA’s science program. “It has loads of instruments, which will go not as close as Parker Solar Probe, but quite close. Solar Orbiter will also have eyes.”

“Parker Solar Probe can only sense and measure the plasma and the magnetic field, but Solar Orbiter also has six instruments that can really look at the Sun, which is quite a challenge when you think it is reaching an environment where it’s about 600 degrees Celsius (1,100 degrees Fahrenheit). It’s like being in a pizza oven, so you have to make sure that you don’t burn the instruments.”

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