NASA will begin development and testing of two science instruments, in cooperation with the European Space Agency (ESA), to be placed on ESA’s newly selected Solar Orbiter mission. The spacecraft will study the sun from a closer distance than any previous mission.
At its closest approach, the European-led project will operate approximately 21 million miles from the sun’s surface, near the orbit of Mercury, roughly 25 percent of the distance from the sun to the Earth. This unique vantage point will enhance the ability to forecast space weather.
Space weather produces disturbances in electromagnetic fields on Earth that can induce extreme currents in wires, disrupt power lines and cause widespread blackouts. These sun storms can interfere with communications between ground controllers and satellites and with airplane pilots flying near Earth’s poles. Radio noise from the storms also can disrupt cell phone service.
The powerful influence of the Sun and the nature of the mysterious ‘dark energy’ motivate ESA’s next two science missions. Solar Orbiter and Euclid were selected today by ESA’s Science Programme Committee for implementation, with launches planned for 2017 and 2019.
These two missions are medium-class missions and are the first in ESA’s Cosmic Vision 2015-2025 Plan.