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NASA Solar Orbiter: Launch location, schedule, and how to watch

Get ready for the launch of NASA and ESA's Solar Orbiter, the spacecraft that will transform what we know about the Sun.

ESA/ATG Medialab.

On February 9, NASA and the European Space Agency will launch the Solar Orbiter, ushering in a new era of science about our Solar System and the star at its heart.

These are the key details you need to know about when the launch will take place, where it is happening, and how you can watch it liftoff live.

What is the Solar Orbiter?

The European Space Agency and NASA are joining forces to send a spacecraft closer to the Sun than ever before — a mere distance of 0.27 AU, or almost three-quarters of the total distance from Earth to the Sun.

"ESA and NASA realized that we had a lot of the same objectives that we want to achieve," Alan Zide, Solar Orbiter Program Executive at NASA, said during a press conference Friday.

"When you do an international collaboration like this you get a much better science return."

The craft clocks in at 1,800 kilograms, has an 18-meter wingspan, and carries ten scientific instruments onboard that will enable scientists to measure the Sun as never before.

The Solar Orbiter will face the heat of the Sun head on.ESA

The Solar Orbiter is designed to take the most-accurate measurements yet of the Sun's solar wind, and capture a view of the Sun's magnetic poles from a high altitude for the very first time. To do that, it uses entirely new technology that will enable it to withstand the burning heat of the Sun.

"The spacecraft is built around the idea that we hide behind a heat shield for the whole mission because the temperatures are so high," Ian Walters, project manager of the Solar Orbiter at Airbus Defence and Space, said during the press conference. "We couldn’t build a spacecraft that could withstand these temperatures, so we built a heat shield."

The data the craft's 10 scientific instruments will collect will help scientists resolve some mysteries regarding our host star, namely what drives solar wind and how it affects the Solar System, including our own planet Earth.

Here's everything you need to know to get ready for Sunday's launch:

When will the NASA Solar Orbiter launch?

The Solar Orbiter is currently scheduled to launch on Sunday, February 9 at 11:03 p.m. Eastern.

It had originally been scheduled for launch Friday, February 7, however weather conditions meant the launch date was pushed back by two days.

Where will the Solar Orbiter launch take place?

The spacecraft will launch on a United Launch Alliance Atlas V 411 rocket from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

What will happen after Solar Orbiter lifts off?

Shortly after liftoff, the booster engine of the rocket will shut off, and the Atlas Centaur craft that carries the orbiter will separate. At this point, the Atlas Centaur will have shed so much fuel that it will weigh just 14 percent of its original weight at liftoff.

Twelve minutes later, the vehicle will enter a cruise phase, before a secondary engine burn starts to push the Solar Orbiter closer to its target trajectory.

Shortly after that, the Centaur will release the Solar Orbiter out into space, beginning its nearly two-year journey to the Sun.

How to watch the Solar Orbiter launch online?

You can watch the Solar Orbiter launch live on February 9 here.

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