ISS Points SOLAR At The Sun
November 28, 2012

Space Station Turning Towards Sun For Experiment

Lee Rannals for — Your Universe Online

The International Space Station will be keeping its SOLAR instrument this weekend pointed towards the sun for a better view.

The European Space Agency's SOLAR instrument was first installed on ESA's Columbus laboratory module in February 2008. It will be celebrating its fifth year next year.

“That is quite an achievement,” Nadia This, operations engineer at the Belgian User Support and Operations Centre that controls SOLAR, said in a statement. “The instrument was designed to work for only 18 months.”

The instrument needs to be in direct view of the Sun in order to help snag measurements, but the Space Station's normal orbit obscures the view for two weeks every month.

“We want to record a complete rotation of the Sun and that takes around 25 days,” Nadia said in the statement.

In order to do this, the station will be moving its orbit, which will involve many factors aside from calculating the correct orbit.

ESA said communication antennas need to be reoriented to stay in contact with Earth and other scientific experiments must be adjusted.

All five Space Station partners were involved in some high-level discussions in order to get the go-ahead for the orbit positioning.

SOLAR first started to record a full rotation of the Sun on November 19. On December 1, the station will be spending two hours turning 7 degrees so the observation can continue. ESA said it would be holding this angle for ten days before returning back to its original altitude.

"SOLAR´s observations are improving our understanding of the Sun and allowing scientists to create accurate computer models and predict its behavior," ESA said in a statement. "The more accurate data we acquire, the more we will understand our nearest star´s influence on Earth."

SOLAR will be put to special use next year as the sun gets ready for solar maximum. The instruments spectral readings are of particular interest to scientists for this event.