Under a brilliant moon, a United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 rocket flashed to life and vaulted away from Cape Canaveral late Sunday, boosting the European Space Agency’s $1.5 billion Solar Orbiter probe out of Earth’s gravitational grip toward a multi-year voyage around the sun that will give scientists their first glimpse of the star’s poles.
A United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 rocket lifted off from Cape Canaveral’s Complex 41 launch pad Sunday night with the European Space Agency’s Solar Orbiter mission, a project developed in partnership with NASA. Launch occurred right on time at the opening of a two-hour window at 11:03 p.m. EST Sunday (0403 GMT Monday).
The first 34 satellites manufactured on a new commercial spacecraft assembly line just outside the gates of the Kennedy Space Center in Florida are scheduled for liftoff on a Soyuz rocket Thursday halfway around the world in Kazakhstan, kicking off a sequence of up to 20 launches from three countries to deploy nearly 650 satellites for OneWeb’s global Internet network.
The European-built Solar Orbiter spacecraft was installed on top of its United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 launcher Friday at Cape Canaveral, ready for final charging and checkouts before liftoff Feb. 9 to finally begin a more than $1.5 billion science mission first approved by the European Space Agency nearly 20 years ago.