Solar Ring Mission Proposal: A New Concept of Space Exploration

This is a conceptual map of the Solar Ring mission.
Credit: ©Science China Press

With the development of science and technology, human’s activity was and is expanding from land, sea and sky to the space and other planets. In the near future, deep space and other terrestrial planets will become the next main territory of human. Sun is the nearest star in the universe. It affects the (interplanetary-)space of our planets in many time scales. Thus, observing and understanding the solar activity and its evolution in interplanetary space and influence on the space environment of planets is one of the necessary capabilities for us to enter the deep space and expand our territory.

Recently, Professor Wang Yuming and his team from the University of Science and Technology of China, in collaboration with the teams from Purple Mountain Observatory of Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS), Innovation Academy for Microsatellites of CAS, Shandong University, and the University of CAS, proposed a new concept of space exploration for understanding Sun and the inner heliosphere, which was published online in “Science China Technological Sciences.”

This concept for the first time proposes to deploy six spacecraft, grouped in three pairs, in three elliptical orbits between the earth and Venus around the Sun to observe and study the Sun and the inner heliosphere in a full 360-degree perspective. The separation angle between two spacecraft in each group is about 30 degrees, and that between every two groups is about 120 degrees. Through this configuration, the mission will be able to image the vast area from the photosphere to the inner heliosphere with high resolution, and perform the in situ measurements. Three unprecedented capabilities will be established: (1) determine the photospheric vector magnetic field with unambiguity, (2) provide 360-degree maps of the Sun and the inner heliosphere routinely, and (3) resolve the solar wind structures at multiple scales and multiple longitudes. With these capabilities, the Solar Ring mission aims to address the origin of solar cycle, the origin of solar eruptions, the origin of solar wind transients and the origin of severe space weather events.

In order to achieve these scientific objectives, researchers suggest the following science payloads equipped on the six spacecraft: Spectral imager for magnetic field and helioseismology, Multi-band imager for EUV emissions, Wide-angle coronagraph, Radio investigator, Flux-gate magnetometer, Solar wind plasmaanalyzer, and High-energy particle detector. It is preliminarily estimated that the total mass of the payloads on each spacecraft is less than 110 kg, the power consumption is no more than 180 W, and the peak data transmission rate is about 52.06 Mbps.

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