ORLANDO, Fla., Feb. 8 (UPI) -- One of the most advanced science missions to study the sun in history -- the Solar Orbiter -- is scheduled for launch on Sunday night in Florida.
The launch is planned for 11:03 p.m. EST at Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, which is adjacent to Kennedy Space Center. A two-hour launch window exists in case of delays.
The satellite will aim multiple cameras and sensory equipment at the sun's polar regions, images of which have never been taken. It's part of a concerted effort by NASA and the European Space Agency to better understand solar radiation and solar flares.
"The mission will be able to look at the poles of the sun, which will be the first time ever that we will be able to look at the poles," said Cesar Garcia, Solar Orbiter project manager with the European agency.
He said the instruments on board will "talk to each other," telling another instrument to take a measurement of an interesting phenomenon.
"They measure the sun at the location of the spacecraft itself, providing images of the sun, the corona, the light scattered from the solar winds," Garcia said.
The spacecraft will slingshot around Venus several times to reach an orbital plane far different from that of the planets, which orbit the sun around its equator. The slingshot maneuvers will are necessary to send the spacecraft around the poles of the sun, instead.
The closest approach of the Solar Orbiter will be about the distance between the sun and Mercury. In contrast, the Parker Solar Probe launched in 2018 orbits much closer to the sun, dipping into the sun's outer atmosphere.
Even so, Solar Orbiter will become so hot that it will need to tilt its solar power panels away from the sun when at its closest point to avoid overheating, said Ian Walters, project manager for spacecraft manufacturer Airbus.
Cameras will be stored behind a protective heat shield, with apertures that open only briefly when needed.
Solar Orbiter will leave the launch pad atop 1.2 million pounds of thrust from a United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 rocket that will have a single solid rocket booster.
The first stage of the rocket will burn for about four minutes, while the second stage will carry the satellite for almost an hour after liftoff until it hits escape velocity of 27,000 miles per hour.