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Press release No. 146/2011, 2011-10-05 | zur deutschen Fassung | print version | Search

Closer to the sun

ESA chooses Solar Orbiter mission

The powerful influence of the sun motivates ESA’s next science mission. Solar Orbiter was selected yesterday, October 4th, by ESA's Science Programme Committee for implementation, with launch planned for 2017. Scientists from Christian-Albrechts-Universität zu Kiel (CAU/Germany) developed four of five sensors for an “Energetic Particle Detector” which will give new information about the activity of solar particles. The Kiel scientists, students and engineers cooperate with an international team with members from South Korea, Spain, Finland, and the USA. Solar Orbiter receives about 12 Million Euros funding until 2017.

Solar Orbiter will venture closer to the Sun than any previous mission. It is designed to make major breakthroughs in our understanding of how the sun influences its environment, in particular how the sun generates and propels the flow of particles in which the planets are bathed, known as the solar wind. Solar activity affects the solar wind, makes it very turbulent, and solar flares create strong perturbations in this wind, triggering spectacular auroral displays on earth and other planets.

Solar Orbiter will be close enough to the sun to sample this solar wind shortly after it has been ejected from the solar surface, while at the same time observing in great detail the process accelerating the wind on the sun's surface. The mission's launch is planned for 2017 from Cape Canaveral with a NASA-provided Atlas launch vehicle.

"With the selection of Solar Orbiter (...), the Science Programme has once more shown its relevance to pure science and to the concerns of citizens”, says Alvaro Giménez, ESA's Director of Science and Robotic Exploration. And it “will help scientists to understand processes, such as coronal mass ejections, that affect earth's citizens by disrupting, for example, radio communication and power transmission.”

Yesterday's announcement is the culmination of a process started in 2004 when ESA consulted the wider astronomical community to set Europe's goals for space exploration in the coming decade. That exercise resulted in the Cosmic Vision 2015-2025 Plan, which identified four scientific aims: What are the conditions for life and planetary formation? How does the Solar System work? What are the fundamental laws of the Universe? How did the Universe begin and what is it made of?

In 2007, a “call for missions” was issued around these aims and resulted in a number of medium-class missions being considered. "It was an arduous dilemma for the Science Programme Committee to choose two from the three excellent candidates. All of them would produce world-class science and would put Europe at the forefront in the respective fields. Their quality goes to show the creativity and resources of the European scientific community," said Fabio Favata, Head of the Science Programme's Planning Office.

Link to ESA press release:

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Caption: Solar Orbiter will venture closer to the Sun than any previous mission. It launches in 2017.
Reference: ESA

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Caption: ESA's Cosmic Vision 2015-2025 Plan is designed to give us new understanding and new views of the Universe.
Reference: NASA/ESA/ESO/W. Freudling (ST-ECF)

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For further information, please contact:
Institute of Experimental and Applied Physics

Prof. Dr. Robert F. Wimmer-Schweingruber
Tel. +49(0)431/880-3964

Prof. Dr. Bernd Heber
Tel. +49(0)431/880-3955

Christian-Albrechts-Universität zu Kiel
Press and Communication Services, Dr. Boris Pawlowski, Text: Claudia Eulitz
Address: D-24098 Kiel, phone: +49 (0431) 880-2104, fax: +49 (0431) 880-1355
Text / Redaktion: ► Claudia Eulitz