Solar Orbiter spacecraft heads to launch site on its way to the Sun

A spacecraft on a mission to study the Sun, with Imperial kit on board, is leaving Europe in preparation for launch in February 2020.

Solar Orbiter is a European Space Agency mission to study the Sun, with NASA support and an Imperial College London instrument on board.

To find out more about the mission, its aims, and how the Imperial-built magnetometer instrument will function, we talked to Principal Investigator Dr Tim Horbury and Instrument Manager Helen O’Brien, from the Department of Physics.

The video above tells how the mission will provide unprecedented new insights into the Sun and just how tough the magnetometer has to be to survive launch and the hard environment of space.

The spacecraft was assembled in the UK by Airbus and tested extensively at IABG in Germany - and now leaves for Cape Canaveral in Florida, where it will be launched in February 2020 on top of a NASA Atlas V rocket.

Ahead of its journey, UK Science Minister Chris Skidmore said: “I am delighted that the UK has played such a leading role in this mission to observe uncharted regions of the Sun. From mobile phones to electricity networks, our scientists will make new discoveries about the impacts of space weather on our daily lives.

“Our commitment to the European Space Agency means UK research and engineering teams will continue to be at the heart of the new space age after we’ve left the EU, creating highly-skilled jobs and supporting our economy.”

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