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Credit: ESA
European solar satellite. SOHO was a component of the Collaborative Solar-Terrestrial Research (COSTR) Program of the International Solar Terrestrial Physics (ISTP) Program. Solar Observatory satellite built by Matra Marconi Space for ESA, NASA, Europe. Launched 1995.

AKA: Solar and Heliospheric Observatory. Status: Operational 1995. First Launch: 1995-12-02. Last Launch: 1995-12-02. Number: 1 . Gross mass: 1,850 kg (4,070 lb). Height: 3.65 m (11.97 ft). Span: 9.50 m (31.10 ft).

SOHO's specific objectives were to study and understand the solar corona, in particular its heating mechanism and its expansion into the solar wind; and to study the solar structure and interior dynamics from the Sun's core to the photosphere. SOHO had the first long duration unobstructed view of the sun from its halo orbit about the L1 Lagrange point 1.5 million kilometers ahead of the Earth. In this orbit, it avoided eclipses with the Earth that blocked the sun. The spacecraft was built by ESA, tracking and data acquisition were shared by NASA and ESA, and mission operations were conducted by NASA.

The spacecraft consisted of two modules and was three-axis stabilized to within 10 arcsec, with pointing stability of 1 arcsec per 15 minutes. The service module provided power, thermal and pointing control. The payload module contained twelve science instruments. Power was provided by dual solar panels, with a total output of 1150 W. The payload consumed 450 W on orbit. The velocity of the spacecraft relative to the sun was known to within 0.5 cm/sec.


  • GOLF (Global Oscillations at Low Frequencies) - studied the internal structure of the sun by measuring the spectrum of global oscillations in the frequency range 10-7 to 10-2 Hz.
  • VIRGO (Variability of Solar Irradiance and Gravity Oscillations) - provided continuous measurements of the solar total and spectral irradiance and spectral radiance variation, solar polar and equatorial diameters, and the frequencies, amplitudes and phases of oscillation modes in the frequency range of 1 uHz to 8 mHz
  • SOI/MDI (Solar Oscillations Investigation/ Michelson Doppler Imager) - used a telescope with a 1024*1024 CCD camera to image the Sun. Data from the experiment was used to understand the static and dynamic properties of the Sun's convection zone and core, as well as contributing to knowledge of the solar magnetic field.
  • SUMER (Solar Ultraviolet Measurements of Emitted Radiation) - measured profiles and intensities of extreme ultraviolet (EUV) lines emitted in the solar atmosphere. This data was used to understand plasma flow characteristics, turbulence and wave motions, plasma densities and temperatures, and structures and events associated with solar magnetic activity in the chromosphere, the transition zone and the corona.
  • CDS (Coronal Diagnostic Spectrometer) - designed to obtain spectra-spectroheliograms in a number of lines in the EUV frequency region.
  • EIT (Extreme Ultraviolet Imaging Telescope) - imaged the solar transition region and inner corona at 4 EUV frequencies (171, 195, 284, 304 angstroms). The instrument imaged active regions, filaments and prominences, coronal holes, coronal "bright points," polar plumes, and a variety of other solar features.
  • UVCS (Ultraviolet Coronograph Spectrometer) - imaged the solar corona between 2 and 10 solar radii. Spectrographic images were used to calculate proton velocity distribution, proton outflow velocity, electron temperature, and specific ion outflow velocities and densities.
  • LASCO (Large Angle Spectrometric Coronograph) - a set of three coronagraph telescopes that recorded white light and spectral images of the solar corona. Data from the experiment was used to understand how the corona was heated, how the solar wind was accelerated, what caused coronal transients, and how large-scale structures evolved.
  • CELIAS (Charge, Element and Isotope Analysis System) - studied the composition of the solar wind and solar and interplanetary energetic particles. It also monitored the absolute EUV flux from the Sun.
  • COSTEP (Comprehensive Suprathermal and Energetic Particle Analyzer)
  • ERNE (Energetic and Relativistic Nuclei and Electron experiment)
  • SWAN (Solar Wind Anisotrophies) - measured Lyman alpha UV light scattered by interplanetary hydrogen atoms.

NASA NSSDC Master Catalog Description

The primary scientific aims of the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory mission (SOHO) were to investigate: (1) the physical processes that form and heat the Sun's corona, maintain it and give rise to the expanding solar wind; and, (2) the interior structure of the Sun. Imaging and collection of spectroscopic plasma diagnostics of the solar chromosphere, transition region and corona, as well as in situ solar-wind measurements are used to study the corona and solar wind. Solar interior structure is investigated by helioseismological means and by the observation of variations in solar irradiance. SOHO was part of the International Solar-Terrestrial Physics Program (ISTP).

The SOHO spacecraft was three-axis stabilized and pointed towards the Sun with an accuracy of +/- 10 arcsec per 15 min. It consisted of a Payload Module to accommodate the instruments and a Service Module carrying the spacecraft subsystems and solar arrays. SOHO occupied a halo orbit at the Earth-Sun L1 Lagrangian point to obtain uninterrupted sunlight. The design life was two years, but on-board consumables were sufficient for an extra four years of operations.

Twelve instruments comprised the payload, producing a continuous stream of data at 40 kbs, except whenever the solar oscillations imager Michelson Doppler Imager (MDI) was operated in high-bit-rate mode, producing 160 kbs. The high-bit-rate mode was used during scheduled daily eight-hour periods or during dedicated campaigns. Magnetic tape stored data between telemetry contacts with the Experiment Operations Facility, located at NASA-GSFC. For more information, see B. Fleck, V. Domingo, and A. I. Poland, eds., Solar Physics, V. 162, 1995.

SOHO was a joint mission of the European Space Agency and NASA. It was launched aboard an Atlas IIAS rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Station, FL, on Dec. 2, 1995, and mission operations were directed from NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, MD.

In April 1998, SOHO successfully completed its nominal two-year mission to study the Sun's atmosphere, surface and interior. Major science highlights include the detection of rivers of plasma beneath the surface of the Sun; the discovery of a magnetic "carpet" on the solar surface that seems to account for a substantial part of the energy that is needed to cause the very high temperature of the corona, the Sun's outermost layer; the first detection of flare-induced solar quakes; the discovery of more than 50 sungrazing comets; the most detailed view to date of the solar atmosphere; and spectacular images and movies of coronal mass ejections, which were being used to improve the ability to forecast space weather.

Contact with SOHO was lost at 23:16 GMT on June 24, 1998 during maintenance operations. The spacecraft went into emergency sun reacquisition mode, which is activated when an anomaly occurs and the spacecraft loses its orientation toward the Sun. When this happened, the spacecraft automatically tried to point itself toward the Sun again by firing its attitude control thrusters under the guidance of an onboard Sun sensor. Efforts to re-establish contact with SOHO did not succeed and telemetry was lost, not to be reestablished for several weeks.

Attitude analysis led to the conclusion that SOHO went into a spin such that the solar panels were nearly edge-on towards the Sun, and thus did not generate any power. Because the spin axis is fixed in space, as the spacecraft progressed in its orbit the orientation of the panels with respect to the Sun gradually changed, resulting in increased solar illumination of the solar arrays as time progressed. On August 3, contact was re-established with SOHO following six weeks of silence. After a lengthy recovery process, on September 16 the spacecraft again locked onto the Sun, and experiment heaters were switched on. After recommissioning of various subsystems, and an orbit correction maneuver, SOHO was finally brought back to normal mode on 25 September at 19:52:58 GMT. Instrument switch-on started October 5, 1998, and by November 4 all instruments were back to normal.

More at: SOHO.

Family: Astronomy, Lagrangian point, Solar. Country: Europe. Launch Vehicles: Atlas, Atlas IIAS. Launch Sites: Cape Canaveral, Cape Canaveral LC36B. Agency: NASA, ESA, Matra Marconi. Bibliography: 2, 278, 4069, 6, 6892, 13113.
Photo Gallery

Credit: Manufacturer Image

1995 December 2 - . 08:08 GMT - . Launch Site: Cape Canaveral. Launch Complex: Cape Canaveral LC36B. LV Family: Atlas. Launch Vehicle: Atlas IIAS.
  • SOHO - . Mass: 1,850 kg (4,070 lb). Nation: Europe. Agency: ESA. Class: Astronomy. Type: X-ray astronomy satellite. Spacecraft: SOHO. USAF Sat Cat: 23726 . COSPAR: 1995-065A. Apogee: 671,400 km (417,100 mi). Perigee: 8,973 km (5,575 mi). Inclination: 29.6000 deg. Period: 29,196.30 min. Solar and Heliospheric Observatory; orbiting at L1 Lagrange point; solar physics. En route Earth-Sun L1 point Earth-Sun L1 libration point transfer trajectory. Inertial trajectory option..

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