Solar Orbiter was selected by ESA in September 2000 with a proposal led by the Max Planck Institute for Aeronomy and RAL Space. The mission makes use of solar electric propulsion and planetary fly-bys (Venus and Earth) to achieve a 150-day orbit with aperihelion of 40 solar radii and thus makes numerous close encounters of the Sun.
Repeated Venus fly-bys, on every third orbit, will allow the spacecraft to climb out of the ecliptic, providing the first high latitude observations of the solar atmosphere - extremely valuable for studies of the high-speed polar wind outflows, the solar dynamo, global mass ejection and studies of fundamental processes in a stellar atmosphere.
This mission is due for launch in 2017. From day one, RAL Space has been a key player in the mission conception, proposal and studies, and continues to lead an international consortium which is proposing to build a high-resolution UV spectrometer/imager for the mission.
ESA Solar Orbiter animation
(Credit: ESA/Equinox Graphics)