Europe and NASA’s Solar Orbiter blasted off last night from Florida on a mission to capture pictures of the sun’s elusive poles.
Space officials planned for the mission to launch sometime between 2008 and 2013. However, technical difficulties and some mission reshuffling ultimately delayed the launch to 2020.
“The thermal protection system for the spacecraft has been one [of a few] challenges,” said César García, Solar Orbiter project manager at ESA.
Solar Orbiter won’t go close enough to penetrate the sun’s corona, the crown-like outer atmosphere but will be able to withstand intense heat. To stay cool, the craft has a 324-lb. (150 kg) heat shield, which is built to withstand temperatures up to 970 degrees Fahrenheit “Solar Orbiter will go into this region that is about as hot as a pizza oven.”
It’ll travel over both poles, never photographed before, which are hubs for the sun’s magnetic field. First close encounter: 2022.