The robotic spacecraft Solar Orbiter, developed by the European Space Agency (ESA) in collaboration with NASA, sent the first readings of its scientific equipment just days after launch. This is reported on the ESA website.
The Atlas V launch vehicle launched from the Solar Orbiter on February 10. The spacecraft is equipped with ten scientific instruments, four of which measure the environment around the spacecraft, including the properties and composition of the solar wind, superthermal and energy particles, and study magnetic and electric fields; six more are solar remote sensing instruments (mainly telescopes that will take pictures of the sun's surface at different wavelengths).
"We measure magnetic fields thousands of times smaller than those we deal with on Earth," said scientist Tim Horbury of Imperial College London, who works with a magnetometric instrument (MAG). “Even currents in electrical wires create magnetic fields much larger than what we need to measure. This is why the sensors are located on a special retractable boom: you need to keep them away from any electrical activity on board the spacecraft."
The data collected by the magnetometer device (MAG) shows how the magnetic field is reduced from the vicinity of the device to the place where the devices are actually deployed. The first measurements from MAG, taken after deploying the high gain antenna on February 13, show a decrease in the magnetic field level by about one order of magnitude. At first, the data reflected mainly the magnetic field of the apparatus, but in the end, scientists saw for the first time a weaker magnetic field in the environment. The right half of the graph shows the value of the interplanetary magnetic field / © ESA
Ground controllers at the European Space Operations Center in Darmstadt, Germany, turned on two magnetometer sensors (one at the boom tip, the other next to the Solar Orbiter) approximately 21 hours after launch. The instrument recorded data before, during and after the deployment of the antennas, allowing scientists to assess the impact of the apparatus on measurements in the space environment.
Solar Orbiter first readings / © ESA
The findings show how the levels of exposure to magnetic fields from the Solar Orbiter to its instruments are being reduced, confirming their reliable performance and measurement accuracy, the researchers note.
“Measurements before, during and after antenna deployment help us identify and characterize signals that are not related to the solar wind, such as disturbances from the spacecraft platform and other instruments,” adds Mathieu Kreschmar of the Orleans lab.
Scientists note that by the end of April they plan to calibrate the Solar Orbiter equipment, gradually turn on the device after the device and check the serviceability of their work. We intend to collect the first scientific data by mid-May. The probe will reach its working orbit (an elliptical orbit with a perihelion of 0.28 AU and an aphelion of 0.9 AU) the probe will reach 3.5 years after launch.