NASA to Launch $172 Million Orbiter to Study the Sun

All of the aerospace experts in the world cannot find a missing jetliner here on Earth, but the sun? That's big. We can find it!

Yesterday, NASA announced it had chosen a company -- United Launch Services LLC of Centennial, Colo. -- to handle the launch of a solar orbiter that will study the sun's atmosphere. In July 2017, the orbiter will launch from Cape Canaveral.

According to NASA, the Solar Orbiter is a joint project with the European Space Agency and will help figure out how the sun keeps planets spinning around it in the heliosphere. It will seek answers to the questions:

How and where do the solar wind plasma and magnetic field originate in the corona? How do solar transients drive heliospheric variability? How do solar eruptions produce energetic particle radiation that fills the heliosphere? How does the solar dynamo work and drive connections between the Sun and the heliosphere?

The orbiter will get close to the sun and measure solar wind plasma, fields, waves, and energetic particles. After three years, it will get within .28 AU (astronomical units) of the sun. (One AU is approximately 93 million miles, about the distance between the Earth and sun. So the orbiter will get about 70 percent of the way to the sun.)

The ESA is providing the spacecraft and ten instruments, while the U.S is providing two instruments and a launch vehicle. NASA says, "The total cost for NASA to launch the Solar Orbiter is approximately $172.7 million, which includes the launch service, spacecraft processing, payload integration, tracking, data and telemetry and other launch support requirements."

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Deirdra Funcheon