Thursday, February 11, 2010

SDO Launches!

The Atlas V roared to life Thursday morning to send the Solar Dynamics Observatory into space on its mission to evaluate the complex mechanisms of the sun. Liftoff came on-time at 10:23 a.m. EST from Launch pad 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on Florida's Atlantic Coast.

The SDO spacecraft is in good shape midway through the launch phase that will eventually place it in an elongated orbit reaching more than 21,000 miles high. Eventually, SDO's orbit will be circularized and will reach about 22,300 miles in what is called geosynchronous orbit. From that altitude, the spacecraft will point its instruments at the sun and relay the readings instantly to a ground station in New Mexico. The research is expected to reveal the sun's inner workings by constantly taking high resolution images of the sun, collecting readings from inside the sun and measuring its magnetic field activity. This data is expected to give researchers the insight they need to eventually predict solar storms and other activity on the sun that can affect spacecraft in orbit, astronauts on the International Space Station and electronic and other systems on Earth.

Live coverage of the launch is available on NASA TV and NASA's Launch Blog.