Launch and Orbit

EUI was launched on board Solar Orbiter with an Atlas V 411 from launch complex 41 at Cape Canaveral, on 2020 February 9 23h03 local time (2020 February 10 05:03 CET).

The rocket being lifted in the Vertical Integration Facility.
The fairing being mounted on top of the rocket.
Artist impression of rocket in flight. (ESA media)

Following the initial commissioning round of its systems and instruments, its first pass by the Sun took place in June 2020 when the spacecraft was at around half the distance of Earth’s orbit from the Sun.

Trajectory in June 2020
Ecliptic view of the Solar Orbiter trajectory from launch until its first closest approach to the Sun at 0.5 AU on June 2020. The position of Solar Orbiter and the planets at the end date is marked by the colored dots

During the remainder of the cruise phase, which lasted until November 2021, Solar Orbiter performed two gravity-assist manoeuvres around Venus and one around Earth to alter the spacecraft's trajectory, guiding it towards the innermost regions of the Solar System. and also out of the plane of the Solar System to observe the Sun from progressively higher inclinations. This resulted in the spacecraft being able to take the first ever images of the Sun's polar regions, crucial for understanding how the Sun 'works'.

Trajectory in November 2021
Ecliptic view of the Solar Orbiter trajectory marking the two Venus flybys and approaching to the Earth

Head on trajectory in November 2021
View of the Solar Orbiter trajectory in the X-Z plane, showing how the orbit increases its latitude separation to the ecliptic plane after the Venus flybys

During the cruise phase, Solar Orbiter acquired in situ data, characterise and calibrate its remote-sensing instruments. The (first) closest solar pass took place at the end of March 2022 at around a third of Earth’s distance from the Sun.

Trajectory in March 2022
Ecliptic view of the Solar Orbiter trajectory at around a third of Earth’s distance from the Sun, the first closest approach in March 2022

Having arrived in the near-vicinity of the Sun, the spacecraft will be in an elliptical orbit that initially takes 180 days to complete. This means it will make a close approach of the Sun every six months. During these close approaches, Solar Orbiter will pass within 43 million kilometres of the Sun’s surface, or about 60 solar radii.

Solar Orbiter's nominal science mission is set to last for four years. During this time, the inclination of the orbit is set to reach 17°. This will allow the spacecraft to image regions closer to the poles of the Sun for the first time (the Sun's polar regions are not visible from Earth). During its proposed extended mission phase, Solar Orbiter would lift its inclination even more, to 33°, bringing the polar regions into even more direct view.

View of the Solar Orbiter trajectory in the X-Z plane close to the end of the extended mission timeframe, by then Solar Orbiter will have an unprecedented view on the Sun with an inclination of 33°


Orbit images produced by  ROB.