ESA announces preliminary payload selection for Solar Orbiter
20 March 2009
A suite of 10 instruments has been selected as the scientific payload for the ESA Solar Orbiter mission. The payload complement will support scientific investigations ranging from near-Sun and out-of-ecliptic in-situ measurements to remote-sensing observations of the Sun and its environs.
The Solar Orbiter mission, a candidate mission in the ESA Cosmic Vision Science Programme, is devoted to solar and heliospheric physics. From its unique vantage point in an elliptical orbit around the Sun, and approaching as close as 48 solar radii, it will provide unprecedented close-up and high-latitude observations of the Sun. Solar Orbiter will be carried out as an ESA-led mission open to the worldwide science community.
In October 2007 ESA issued an announcement of opportunity to the scientific community soliciting proposals for participation in the payload complement of Solar Orbiter. A parallel NASA announcement of opportunity was open for contributions to Solar Orbiter from the USA. At this time, it was envisaged that Solar Orbiter would be part of a joint programme together with NASA’s Sentinels mission.
A total of 16 proposals was received by ESA which were then evaluated by a Payload Review Committee, comprising external experts appointed by ESA and by NASA. In the intervening period NASA decided to implement the Solar Probe Plus (SPP) mission in the same time-frame as Solar Orbiter and to delay the implementation of their Sentinels mission. As a consequence a Solar Orbiter Payload Re-evaluation Panel was convened to consider if the selected payload was still valid in the context of a joint programme with SPP. The re-evaluation panel concluded that, with minor adjustments, the preliminary payload as selected was still valid.
The following investigations have been recommended for preliminary selection:
Energetic Particle Detector (EPD)
Principal Investigator: Dr. Javier Rodríguez-Pacheco, University of Alcala, Spain
EPD will measure the properties of suprathermal and energetic particles. Scientific topics to be addressed include the sources, acceleration mechanisms, and transport processes of these particles.
Extreme Ultraviolet Imager (EUI)
Principal Investigator: Dr. Jean-Francois Hochedez, Royal Observatory Belgium, Belgium
EUI will provide image sequences of the solar atmospheric layers above the photosphere, thereby providing an indispensable link between the solar surface and outer corona that ultimately shapes the characteristics of the interplanetary medium. EUI will also provide the first-ever images of the Sun from an out-of-ecliptic viewpoint (up to 34° of solar latitude during the extended mission phase).
Principal Investigator: Dr. Tim Horbury, Imperial College London, United Kingdom
The magnetometer will provide in-situ measurements of the heliospheric magnetic field. This will facilitate detailed studies into the way the Sun’s magnetic field links into space and evolves over the solar cycle; how particles are accelerated and propagate around the solar system, including to the Earth; how the corona and solar wind are heated and accelerated.
Principal Investigator: Dr. Ester Antonucci, INAF- Astronomical Observatory of Turin, Italy
METIS/COR will simultaneously image the visible and ultraviolet emission of the solar corona and diagnose, with unprecedented temporal coverage and spatial resolution, the structure and dynamics of the full corona in the range from 1.2 to 3.0 (from 1.6 to 4.1) solar radii from Sun centre, at minimum (maximum) perihelion during the nominal mission. This is a region that is crucial in linking the solar atmospheric phenomena to their evolution in the inner heliosphere.
Visible Imager & Magnetograph (PHI)
Principal Investigator: Dr. Sami Solanki, Max-Planck-Institut für Sonnensystemforschung, Germany
The visible imager and magnetograph, PHI, will provide high-resolution and full-disk measurements of the photospheric vector magnetic field and line-of-sight (LOS) velocity as well as the continuum intensity in the visible wavelength range. The LOS velocity maps will have the accuracy and stability to allow detailed helioseismic investigations of the solar interior, in particular of the solar convection zone.
Radio and Plasma Waves (RPW)
Principal Investigator: Dr. Milan Maksimovic, LESIA, Observatoire de Paris, France
The RPW experiment is unique amongst the Solar Orbiter instruments in that it makes both in-situ and remote-sensing measurements. RPW will measure magnetic and electric fields at high time resolution using a number of sensors/antennas, to determine the characteristics of electromagnetic and electrostatic waves in the solar wind.
Heliospheric Imager (SoloHI) [Funded by NASA]
Principal Investigator: Dr. Russell A. Howard, US Naval Research Laboratory, USA
This instrument will provide revolutionary measurements to pinpoint coronal mass ejections or CMEs. CMEs are violent eruptions with masses greater than a few billion tons. They travel from 100 to more than 3000 kilometers per second. They have been compared to hurricanes because of the widespread disruption of communications and power systems they can cause when directed at Earth.
EUV Spectrometer (SPICE) [Funded by NASA]
Principal Investigator: Dr. Don Hassler, Southwest Research Institute, Boulder, USA
This instrument will provide an extreme ultraviolet spectrometer or optical instrument that will measure different wavelengths of light emitted from the Sun. Data will advance our understanding of the various dynamics of the Sun to better understand the effects on Earth and the solar system.
X-ray Imager (STIX)
Principal Investigator: Dr. Arnold O. Benz, Institute of Astronomy, ETH Zurich, Switzerland
STIX provides imaging spectroscopy of solar thermal and non-thermal X-ray emission. STIX will provide quantitative information on the timing, location, intensity, and spectra of accelerated electrons as well as of high temperature thermal plasmas, mostly associated with flares and/or microflares.
Solar Wind Plasma Analyser (SWA)
Principal Investigator: Dr. Christopher Owen, Mullard Space Science Laboratory, United Kingdom
The Solar Wind Plasma Analyser, SWA, consists of a suite of sensors that will measure the density, velocity, and temperature of solar wind ions and electrons, thereby characterising the solar wind between 0.22 and 1.4 AU from the Sun. In addition to determining the bulk properties of the wind, SWA will provide measurements of solar wind ion composition for key elements (e.g. the C, N, O group and Fe, Si or Mg).
Suprathermal Ion Spectrograph (part of EPD) [Funded byNASA]
Lead co-investigator: Glenn Mason, Applied Physics Laboratory in Columbia, Maryland, USA
This experiment will measure energetic particles ejected from the Sun. Data will be compared to other solar and interplanetary processes to understand solar system space weather. Understanding the connections between the Sun and its planets will allow better prediction on the impacts of solar activity on humans, technological systems and even the presence of life itself in the universe.
Solar Orbiter and the Cosmic Vision Science Programme
Solar Orbiter is currently competing with 5 other M-class missions within the Cosmic Vision programme and will go through a down-selection process to be completed in early 2010. The selected payload, which has been well studied over the past few years and has reached a mature stage, will be the subject of an instrument review to be carried out by the principal investigators and the ESA Solar Orbiter Project Team. The aim of the review is to confirm the instrument configuration and evaluate the current status in the context of the Cosmic Vision programme.
Third Solar Orbiter Workshop, 25-29 May 2009
The scientific community will have an opportunity to learn more about the selected payload, the scientific capabilities, current status and future plans for Solar Orbiter at the Third Solar Orbiter Workshop, to be held at Sorrento, Italy from 25-29 May. More information is available on the workshop web site.
For further details please contact:
Marcello Coradini, ESA Solar System Missions Coordinator
Last Update: 1 September 2019