Atlas V Launches Solar Orbiter

The Solar Orbiter spacecraft is prepared for encapsulation in the Atlas V payload fairing. In this image, the front layer of thin titanium foil and star-shaped brackets are visible. The front layer reflects heat, while the brackets provide support. (Credits: NASA/Ben Smegelsky)

An United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V booster successfully launched the joint ESA-NASA Solar Orbiter on a mission to study the Sun from Cape Canaveral on Sunday night.

Ground controllers confirmed the receipt of a signal from the spacecraft after it separated from the Centaur second stage of the launch vehicle.

Solar Orbiter is an international collaborative mission between the European Space Agency (ESA) and NASA. The spacecraft will observe the Sun with high spatial resolution telescopes and capture observations in the environment directly surrounding the spacecraft to create a one-of-a-kind picture of how the Sun can affect the space environment throughout the solar system.

The spacecraft also will provide the first-ever images of the Sun’s poles and the never-before-observed magnetic environment there, which helps drive the Sun’s 11-year solar cycle and its periodic outpouring of solar storms.