Spacewatch: Solar Orbiter sends first data back to Earth

Stuart Clark
Spacewatch: Solar Orbiter sends first data back to Earth. Spacecraft completes first critical stage of mission after successful deployment of boom arm

The European Space Agency’s Solar Orbiter has completed the first critical stage of its mission. Launched on 10 February from Cape Canaveral, Florida, the spacecraft has sent back its first readings after the deployment of its 4.4 metre-long boom arm.

Made of titanium and carbon fibre, the boom arm points away from the spacecraft. It was folded for launch and carries sensors for three of the mission’s science instruments, including the magnetometer. Had it failed to deploy, the mission’s objectives would have been severely compromised.

The magnetometer was switched on about 21 hours after liftoff and took readings all through the deployment, beaming the data to Earth.

Analysis shows the instrument is working well, and can distinguish the weak interplanetary magnetic field from the magnetism produced by the electronics on the spacecraft. This is necessary so that the data can be used to investigate how the sun’s magnetic field helps to generate “space weather”, which creates the aurora on Earth and disrupts our technology.

All 10 science instruments will now be commissioned. Solar Orbiter will cruise for two years before reaching its operating orbit near the Sun.