NRL's SoloHI Selected for European-led Solar Orbiter Mission

Story Number: NNS090425-05Release Date: 4/25/2009 11:18:00 AM
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By Donna McKinney, Naval Research Laboratory Public Affairs

WASHINGTON (NNS) -- The Naval Research Laboratory's (NRL's) Heliospheric Imager (SoloHI) has been chosen as part of the scientific payload for the European Space Agency's Solar Orbiter mission. SoloHI will provide revolutionary measurements to pinpoint solar storms known as coronal mass ejections or CMEs.

CMEs are violent eruptions with masses greater than a few billion tons. They travel from 100 to more than 3,000 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.

The European Space Agency's Solar Orbiter mission will conduct 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 will travel three-fourths way to the sun, closer than any spacecraft has gone. A suite of 10 instruments has been selected as the scientific payload for the Solar Orbiter mission, with NRL's SoloHi being one of those 10 instruments.

"We are very excited about this opportunity for several reasons," said NRL's Dr. Russell Howard, principal investigator for SoloHI. "First, it will allow us to observe the solar wind plasma in a more pristine state, before it has had a chance to be modified during its transport to Earth. Secondly, in the extended mission, the spacecraft will be targeted out of the ecliptic plane, allowing us to look down on the sun. The SoloHI instrument will enable us to link the solar structures with what is measured at the spacecraft."

In addition to NRL's SoloHI, one of the other instruments selected for the Solar Orbiter mission is the Spectral Imaging of the Coronal Environment Instrument (SPICE). Two NRL researchers, Drs. John Mariska and Harry Warren, are co-investigators on SPICE, working with Dr. Donald Hassler of the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colo., who is the principal investigator.

SoloHi is funded by NASA under its Living with a Star Program, which is designed to understand how and why the sun varies, how planetary systems respond and the effect on human space and Earth activities. NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., manages the program for the agency's Heliophysics Division of NASA's Science Mission Directorate.

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