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The European Space Agency (ESA), in partnership with NASA, launched a spacecraft to take detailed photographs of the Sun.
Called the Solar Orbiter, the spacecraft was launched from Cape Canaveral in Florida last February. It is expected to reach the Sun after two years, and its mission is estimated to last for at least a decade.
The launching of the Sun-observing satellite is part of the ESA’s Cosmic Vision 2015-2025 Programme. The goal of this initiative is to answer important questions about planets’ development, the origin of life and the universe, and the mechanisms of the solar system and the cosmos as a whole.
The orbiter, which cost £425 million, has 10 different instruments designed to take close-up shots of the Sun and analyze its magnetic activity. Scientists at the ESA intend to position the craft’s orbit at an angle where it can take the first clear images of the Sun’s north and south poles, which cannot be viewed from the Earth.
The spacecraft is shielded by a 150-kilogram heat protector that can keep it cool and allow it to withstand up to 520 degrees Celsius.
Scientists on the ground reported that the spacecraft’s instruments are in good shape after receiving the first test measurements sent by the orbiter after its launch. Now that the orbiter is in space and functioning properly, the scientists said that the next step is for engineers to ensure that the measurements sent by the spacecraft are accurate and reliable.
NASA’s associate administrator for Science believes that the combined data from the Solar Orbiter and other previously launched missions will provide groundbreaking insights into the Sun.