Media focus may currently be centred on the space shuttle’s latest supply run to the International Space Station (ISS), but NASA’s important module-delivery mission isn’t the only stargazing poker the U.S. space administration has in the fire this week. More pointedly, Thursday morning saw the sky over Florida illuminated once again as NASA successfully launched its Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO), a science satellite designed to monitor the sun’s activity and provide important forecasts and information regarding potentially disruptive solar storms.
The product of an $858 million USD research partnership between Boeing and Lockheed Martin, the satellite blasted clear of Cape Canaveral Air Force Station at approximately 10:23 am EST aboard an unmanned Atlas 5 rocket.
According to mission parameters, the SDO satellite will reside in an orbit of some 22,300 miles above the Earth, where it will capture and send a stream of super high-resolution photographs and videos of the sun for a period of up to 10 years.
“SDO is going to send us images 10 times better than high definition,” enthused project scientist Dean Pesnell in an official NASA statement. “The pixel count is comparable to an IMAX movie – and IMAX filled with the raging sun, 24 hours a day.”
Beyond the amazing imagery NASA expects to receive from SDO, it is also hoped that the observatory’s watchful eye will enable scientists to more accurately predict and warn against solar storms, which are notorious for interfering with Earth-based technology.
“The goal is to develop a real understanding of what goes on so we can make more sophisticated predictions,” said Alan Title, a lead scientist on the SDO team.