The ESA Solar Orbiter will operate about 30 million miles from the Sun, closer than any probe before it. It will take the combined efforts of a the ESA and NASA to make the mission a success and deliver reams of solar data.
Unfortunately, I think the money spent on this program is a waste.
For a billion Euros we could start a manned colony on the lunar surface which could lead to further exploration of the solar system. For a billion Euros we could develop new propulsion technologies, new ways to live in space (like artificial gravity) or even launch a mission to Mars. For a billion euros the ESA could even develop and build its own re-usable spacecraft.
I am not saying that the science we gain from studying the Sun is not important. And I am not saying we shouldn't be glad for ANY space missions which get launched. But I am saying that at this crucial junction in the history of human space exploration it is quite troubling to me that we are not making a more distinct and dedicated effort at human habitation of space; the development of better, faster and safer space craft. Right now, if we needed to put a human being into space only the Chinese stand a chance of making that happen and the international community refuses to work with them.
No, the Solar Orbiter is a great idea and will return important data. But we need to put just as much emphasis on putting humans into space as we do on getting information from space.
Throughout, Solar Orbiter will be staring into the "furnace". The main workings of the spacecraft will have to hide behind a shield to protect it against temperatures higher than 500 degrees; its instruments will need to peek through small slots.
"Solar Orbiter is not so much about taking high-resolution pictures of the Sun, although we'll get those; it's about getting close and joining up what happens on the Sun with what happens in space," explained Tim Horbury from Imperial College London and one of Solar Orbiter's lead scientists.
"The solar wind and coronal mass ejections - these big releases of material coming off the Sun; we don't know precisely where they're coming from, and precisely how they're generated. Solar Orbiter can help us understand that."
Click here to read more about the ESA plans including the possible launch of probe to search for Dark Matter.