Solar Orbiter is the first mission in ESA’s Cosmic Vision programme to start its implementation phase and is scheduled for launch in 2017. The mission lifetime will be 7 years. Solar Orbiter will study the Sun in detail and its effects on the solar system. The spacecraft will carry a suite of complementary instruments that will measure the particles, fields and waves of the plasma through which it travels, and at the same time make observations of the Sun’s surface and outer atmosphere, the photosphere and corona. At its closest point Solar Orbiter will be closer to the Sun than the planet Mercury, at a distance of 0.28 Astronomical Units (42 million kilometres), in an orbit that takes it out of the ecliptic plane. From here, it can perform long-duration observations of the same region of the Sun’s surface, and have visibility of the Sun’s Polar Regions. It will be one of the closest approaches of the Sun by any spacecraft. To position itself in this challenging orbit, Solar Orbiter will make a complex series of gravitational-assist fly-bys past both Earth and Venus.
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