NASA to Launch New Solar Probe Today
A ULA Atlas 5 rocket carrying NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory satellite rolls out to its Space Launch Complex-41 launch pad at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Fla., for a planned Feb. 10, 2010 launch.
Credit: Pat Corkery, United Launch Alliance.

NASA's newest sun probe, the Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO), is poised to launch Wednesday morning on a quest to study our closest star.

The new observatory is slated to lift off atop an Atlas 5 rocket at 10:26 a.m. EST (1526 GMT) from Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. Though the mission has an hour-long window during which to launch, strong winds and clouds could delay the liftoff.

Only a 40 percent chance of favorable weather is predicted for Wednesday's launch attempt, said U.S. Air Force Maj. Christopher Lovett, the launch?s weather officer.

"It's going to be dicey," he said."Within an hour there's a good chance that we'll see some opportunities."

If the solar observatory cannot blast off on Wednesday, NASA can try again Thursday, when a more optimistic 60 percent chance of good weather is predicted.

The $850 million mission is designed for a five-year run to continually observe the sun to learn more about its magnetic field and volatile solar weather.

"SDO is the most advanced spacecraft of its type ever designed and flown," said Michael Luther,
deputy associate administrator for programs at NASA's Science Mission Directorate. The probe will gather higher quality data at a faster rate than any previous study of the sun, he said.

"We're all very excited about finally getting SDO up in the sky where it needs to be," said Stanford University scientist Phil Scherrer, principal investigator of SDO's Helioseismic and Magnetic Imager instrument.

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Visit SPACE.com for launch updates and complete coverage of NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory from Staff Writer Clara Moskowitz in New York.