Early Solar and Heliophysical Space Missions

  • Joseph N. PeltonEmail author
Living reference work entry


The sun is the most important element in the Solar System. Without it life would not exist. When the sun dies in an explosive nova billions of years in the future, this will be the end of existence as now known to humanity. Thus heliophysics, or the understanding of the nuclear fusion processes of the sun and its overall dynamics, has been one of the top priorities for astronomers, astrophysicists, and scientists even before the start of the Space Age. With the ability to put telescopes, gamma and X-ray detectors, spectrometers, coronagraphs, and other sensing instruments into space, there have been a wealth of space projects designed to study the sun and its operation over the past 50 years. There have been missions from NASA, the US Navy and Air Force supported by observatories, research universities, and key research institutes. Further there have been important civilian and military space research missions from France, Germany, Japan, and other countries as well. This chapter seeks to cover in a summary fashion many of the earlier solar and heliophysics research as well as military backed missions. These pioneering efforts have helped to unlock some of the mysteries of the sun’s internal operations and have provided insights that have helped us to design better solar probes for current space experiments and monitoring spacecraft currently studying the sun.

This chapter starts with discussing a number of the solar-related experiments carried out by the Orbiting Solar Observatories, the Solwind (P78-1) Project, and Helios-A and Helios-B that represented the very first solar probes. Next the Skylab experiments carried out by onboard astronaut experimenters are described. This is followed by recapping key elements that come from the following space probes: the Solar Maximum Mission, the Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite (UARS), and the Active Cavity Radiometer Irradiance Monitor (ACRIM) Satellite. Data from these sources have produced significant information on total solar irradiance and how the sun’s power output actually varies about 0.1 % over time. This is followed by information on the Coriolis satellite, the Ulysses satellite, the Reuven Ramaty High Energy Solar Spectroscopic Imager (RHESSI), Windsat, the Yohkoh satellite (also known as Solar-A) and Hinode (also known as Solar-B), and the Transition Region and Coronal Explorer (TRACE) satellite.


The Active Cavity Radiometer Irradiance Monitor (ACRIM) Satellite Air Force Research Lab Coriolis satellite Corona France Gamma ray burst (GRB) Gamma ray detector Germany Helios-A Helios-B Heliophysics research Hinode satellite (also known as Solar-B) The InterPlanetary Network (IPN) Naval Research Lab Orbiting Solar Observatory (OSO) satellites Photosphere Reuven Ramaty High Energy Solar Spectroscopic Imager (RHESSI) Skylab Soft gamma repeater flare Solar Mass Ejection Imager (SMEI) Solar Maximum Mission (SMM) Solwind (P78-1) SPAWAR (Air Force Space Test Program and Space Naval Warfare Systems Command) Total solar irradiance (TSI) Transition Region and Coronal Explorer (TRACE) satellite Ulysses satellite Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite (UARS) X-ray Yohkoh (also known as Solar-A) 


  1. ACRIMSAT official web page at JPL. 9 Apr, 2014
  2. Helios 1 and 2. The encyclopedia Astronautica. 9 Apr 2014
  3. Hinode (Solar B). 9 Apr 2014
  4. Merdin P (ed) (2001) Encyclopedia of astronomy and astrophysics. Hampshire, UK Registered No. 785998 Nature Publishing Group and Institute of Physics Publishing Dirac House, BristolGoogle Scholar
  5. OSO: Orbiting Solar Observatory. 9 Apr 2014
  6. Results from the ACRIM solar irradiance monitors and other satellites since 1978. 9 Apr 2014
  7. RHESSI Satellite Captures Giant Gamma Ray Flare. 9 Apr 2014
  8. Skylab Image. 9 Apr 2014Google Scholar
  9. The Encyclopedia Astronautica.
  10. The Orbiting Solar Observatory. The encyclopedia Astronautica. 9 Apr 2014
  11. The P78-1 or Solwind Satellite. 9 Apr 2014
  12. The RHESSI Satellite Mission findings concerning solar flares. 9 Apr 2014
  13. The Skylab Program. 9 Apr 2014
  14. The Solar Maximum Mission. 9 Apr 2014
  15. The Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite (UARS). 9 Apr 2014
  16. Ulysses web site. Also see: ESA Ulysses web site 9 Apr 2014

Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.International Association for the Advancement of Space SafetyArlingtonUSA

Personalised recommendations