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Japan's Solar-B satellite ready for lift off

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The Japanese Space Agency's (JAXA) Solar-B mission is set to launch tonight from the Uchinoura Space Centre in Japan. The satellite, which will study the solar surface for clues to the causes of solar flares, will be placed into a 96 minute polar orbit around Earth.

Currently, the mechanics of solar flares are reasonably well understood, but solar physicists would like to be able to make better predictions about when they are most likely to occur. Solar-B is designed to shed new light on the events immediately preceding each eruption, which should lead to better predictions.

"With its three advanced and highly sensitive telescopes (visible, X-ray and ultraviolet), Solar-B will be able to study the solar magnetic field at scales smaller than ever before, and connect its behaviour to the energetic and powerful processes at work on the Sun," said Bernhard Fleck, the European Space Agency's (ESA's) SOHO project scientist.

He added that the Solar-B project would tie in well with existing solar observatories, such as SOHO. SOHO has been studying the sun for more than a decade.

"Thanks to ESA's and Norway's participation in Solar-B, the European scientific community will now have access to a completely new set of data, complementary to that of SOHO," he said.

ESA and Norway will be providing ground station coverage for the satellite at the Svalbard Satellite Station (SvalSat) on Norway's Svalbard Islands. SvalSat is the only ground station in the world that can be used for every single orbit of Solar-B and will receive the satellite data for each of its 15 daily orbits.

The craft will be set in an orbit synchronised with the Earth's revolution around the Sun. This will allow the spacecraft to be in continuous sunlight for at least nine months a year during the planned mission duration of three years, maximising its observation times.

The probe is set to lift off tonight, at 11pm, British Summer Time. ®

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