The $808 million spacecraft will ultimately study the Sun and send back what NASA called a prodigious rush of pictures about sunspots, solar flares and a variety of other never-before-seen solar events. The idea is to get a better idea of how the Sun works and let scientists better forecast the space weather to offer earlier warnings to protect astronauts and satellites, NASA said.
The Solar Dynamics Observatory will deliver high resolution images of the Sun ten times better than the average High-Definition television to help scientists understand more about the Sun and its disruptive influence on services like communications systems on Earth. Specifically, NASA says the SDO will beam back 150 million bits of data per second, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. That’s almost 50 times more science data than any other mission in NASA history. It's like downloading 500,000 iTunes a day, NASA stated.
Key to the satellite’s operation will be three high-tech telescopes:
• The Helioseismic and Magnetic Imager (HMI) will look into the sun and map the plasma flows that generate magnetic fields. HMI will also map the surface of the magnetic field, NASA said.
• The Atmospheric Imaging Assembly (AIA) will image the solar atmosphere in multiple wavelengths that cannot be seen from the ground. The idea is that HMI and AIA will link changes on the solar surface to the sun’s interior, NASA said. AIA filters cover 10 different wavelength bands, or colors, selected to reveal key aspects of solar activity. The bulk of SDO's data stream will come from these telescopes, NASA said.
• The Extreme Ultraviolet Variability Experiment (EVE) will measure how much radiant energy the sun emits at extreme ultraviolet wavelengths—light that is so completely absorbed by our atmosphere it can only be measured from space, NASA said.
The satellite will also be placed in what NASA called a unique orbit. Unlike a geostationary orbit, which would keep the spacecraft above the same area of Earth all the time, the satellite will trace a figure-eight path above Earth, NASA said.