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 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.
United Launch Alliance teams loaded super-cold liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen into an Atlas 5 rocket Friday at Cape Canaveral during a countdown dress rehearsal for a planned launch next month with the Solar Orbiter mission, a robotic spacecraft to study the origins of the solar wind and image the sun’s poles for the first time.
United Launch Alliance moved its next Atlas 5 rocket off its Florida launch pad Wednesday for inspections after a cooling duct unexpectedly disconnected before a planned countdown rehearsal to prepare for liftoff next month with the joint U.S.-European Solar Orbiter mission. The roll back to the Vertical Integration Facility at Cape Canaveral’s Complex 41 launch pad could delay Solar Orbiter’s liftoff, which was scheduled for Feb. 5