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Solar Orbiter: Watch live Sunday as NASA, ESA launch new mission to the sun

The Solar Orbiter launches with a mission to image the never-before-seen polar regions of our star.

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Solar Orbiter begins its journey from Earth to sun, fittingly, on Sunday.


The European Space Agency, in collaboration with NASA, is scheduled to launch a pioneering new spacecraft to the sun: Solar Orbiter. The spacecraft will observe the star with a suite of hardy instruments and high-resolution telescopes. It will be steered until it can, for the first time, image the sun's poles. It's currently slated to launch at 8:03 p.m. PT/11:03 p.m. ET Sunday from Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

If you're keen to see the momentous launch, you can follow along with NASA's broadcast.

As it awaits liftoff, the Solar Orbiter is tucked away inside a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket. The two-stage rocket was developed by Lockheed Martin and has ferried a number of important missions to space, including NASA's famed New Horizons mission to Pluto and the recent Boeing Starliner test

The forecast, provided by the 45th Weather Squadron, suggests weather will be good for launch, noting a 20% probability of constraints. At 4:17 p.m. ULA provided an update stating all systems are go. 

Coverage for the launch itself will begin on Sunday at 7:30 p.m. PT/10:30 p.m. ET. You can watch the Solar Orbiter launch below:

NASA already has one solar explorer, the Parker Solar Probe, currently doing the rounds and studying the sun's outer atmosphere and the solar winds. In late January, the probe smashed two space records, becoming the fastest human-made object ever and the closest object to the sun. NASA has often said Parker will "touch the sun" as it gets within 5 million miles of the "surface," but the Solar Orbiter will maintain a distance of about 26 million miles. It's less about touching and more about staring wistfully from across the room. 

The spacecraft has 10 instrument suites onboard and, over the next 10 years, will use Venus gravity assists to get into its operational orbit. 

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Originally published Feb. 5. 
Update Feb. 9: Adds launch countdown.