ESA’s Solar Orbiter was recently struck by a coronal mass ejection erupting from the Sun’s surface. Here is what ESA said about the incident.
Coronal mass ejections (CMEs) have been frequent in recent days, with nearly 32 CMEs erupting from the Sun’s surface in the last week alone. Our sun is nearing its peak in its 11-year solar cycle, which has resulted in increased solar activity in recent months. When the Sun enters the peak of the solar cycle around 2025, solar activity is expected to continue to increase significantly.
A recently erupted CME from the Sun’s surface struck the European Space Agency’s (ESA) Solar Orbiter as it flew past Venus in the early hours of September 4 for a gravity-assisted maneuver. According to ESA, the orbiter came close to the Sun. To complete the maneuver, a massive CME shot up from the Sun and hit the orbiter.
ESA designed the orbiter to withstand such natural phenomena and therefore the CME did not cause any significant damage to the Solar Orbiter. Its flyby of Venus was intended to use the planet’s gravitational pull to complete the gravity-assist maneuver.
Jose-Luis Pellon-Bailon, Operations Manager of the Solar Orbiter, said on the ESA blog: “The close approach went exactly according to plan, thanks to a lot of planning from our Flight Dynamics colleagues and the painstaking care of the Flight Control team.”
“By trading ‘orbital power’ with Venus, Solar Orbiter has used the planet’s gravity to alter its orbit without the need for bulk expensive fuel. When it returns to the Sun, the spacecraft’s next approach will be about 4.5 million kilometers closer than before,” he added.
Solar Orbiter Mission
According to ESA, the Solar Orbiter mission is designed to take a close-up look at our Sun and the inner heliosphere — the unexplored innermost regions of our solar system — to better understand and even predict the unruly behavior of the star on which our solar system resides hang around.