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New Gear Launched To Study Dynamic Solar Activity

By | September 25, 2006

      A new asset to study solar phenomena was launched Saturday from Japan.

      Built by Lockheed Martin Corp. [LMT], the Focal Plane Package (FPP) on the Solar-B satellite was lofted from the Uchinoura Space Center, Kagoshima, Japan, the company stated.

      The primary scientific goal of the mission is to observe how changes in the magnetic field at the solar surface propagate through the different higher layers of the solar atmosphere.

      Solar-B is an international cooperative mission among NASA, the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), the Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council of the United Kingdom, and the European Space Agency.

      It is the second mission in the Solar Terrestrial Probes Program within the Heliophysics Division of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, and follow-on to the Solar-A (or Yohkoh) mission.

      In that earlier mission, Lockheed Martin provided the soft x-ray telescope.

      “The FPP suite will provide high-resolution optical measurements that will show us the connections between changes in the [solar] magnetic field and features of the solar atmosphere,” according to Ted Tarbell, Lockheed Martin FPP principal investigator.

      That would involve both steady state phenomena such as coronal heating, and transient occurrences such as flares and coronal mass ejections, Tarbell stated.

      The FPP comprises four sub-systems: a broadband filter imager (BFI), a narrowband filter imager, a spectra-polarimeter and a correlation tracker to stabilize the images.

      All of this will reside on the Solar Optical Telescope (SOT), which has a mirror and structure designed and developed by the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan and Mitsubishi Electronics Co.

      The SOT is the largest solar optical telescope ever to be flown in space and will be able to resolve features on the surface of the sun just 90 miles (150 km) across.

      Solar-B will perform coordinated measurements of the different layers of the solar atmosphere from a sun-synchronous orbit around the Earth, according to Lockheed.

      Three instruments will perform these measurements: the SOT, an extreme ultraviolet imaging spectrometer and an x-ray telescope.

      These instruments will measure the solar magnetic field in the photosphere and the ultraviolet and X-ray radiation, emitted by the transition region/low corona, and the upper corona. Scientists will use the data obtained to gain a more precise understanding of the sources and mechanisms of the sun variability.

      JAXA is the overall lead for the Solar-B mission, the spacecraft, the launch vehicle and management of space operations. NASA provided the Focal Plane Package for the SOT, and components for the X-ray Telescope and the Extreme Ultraviolet Imaging Spectrometer, as well as engineering support for integration of the three instruments. The Lockheed Advanced Technology Center designed and built the FPP.

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