JAXA launches Solar-B to study the Sun

by Chris Bergin

A JAXA (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency) M-V Launch Vehicle No. 7 has launched with Solar-B onboard – on time from the Uchinoura Space Center in Kagoshima, Japan.

Solar-B is an international mission to study the turbulent sun and its impact on Earth. Lift off was at 5:36pm EDT (10:36pm UK time). A free video of the launch is available (read more for link).


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Solar-B is a collaboration between the space agencies of Japan, the United States, the United Kingdom and continental Europe, and is the third solar physics satellite of ISAS which was approved as a successor of the highly successful Japan/US/UK YOHKOH (SOLAR-A) collaboration.

The spacecraft will circle Earth at least three years, studying the solar magnetic field that fuels the sun’s explosive activity. From this orbit on the day-night boundary of the earth, SOLAR-B will be able to observe the Sun continuously for 8 months in a year.

By observing simultaneously visible surface of the Sun (photosphere) and the solar corona, SOLAR-B aims to understand the origin and consequences of various active phenomena which take place in the corona.

The instruments on board have been developed by a number of partners, including the Marshall Space Flight Center (MSFC) and Lockheed Martin.

They comprises four distinct sub-systems – a broadband filter imager (BFI), a narrowband filter imager, a spectra-polarimeter and a correlation tracker to stabilize the images – and resides on the Solar Optical Telescope (SOT) whose mirror and structure were designed and developed by the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan and Mitsubishi Electronics Company.

The SOT is the largest solar optical telescope ever to be flown in space and will be able to resolve features on the surface of the Sun just 90 mi. (150 km) across.

‘The instrument suite will provide high-resolution optical measurements that will show us the connections between changes in the Sun’s magnetic field and features of the solar atmosphere, both steady state – like coronal heating – or transient — like flares and coronal mass ejections,’ said Dr. Ted Tarbell, Lockheed Martin FPP principal investigator.

‘The solar group at the ATC has been working towards flying an instrument like this in space for more than 25 years, and having it on this international collaborative investigation is enormously satisfying.’

The launch will also mark the end for Japan’s all-solid M-V Launch Vehicle, as they look to replace it with a cheaper alternative.

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