Europe Planning Mission to the Sun Solar orbiter to come within 26m miles of sun By Rob Quinn, Newser Staff Posted Oct 5, 2011 2:28 AM CDT 4 comments Comments An artist's impression of the Solar Orbiter probe. (European Space Agency) (Newser) – The European Space Agency is planning to send a probe much closer to the sun than any before it. The Solar Orbiter mission, to be launched in 2017, will send a heavily heat-shielded spacecraft to within 26 million miles of the sun—10 million miles closer than Mercury. The probe, which will be launched on a NASA rocket, will observe the sun's behavior and analyze how it generates solar winds. "Solar Orbiter is not so much about taking high-resolution pictures of the sun, although we'll get those; it's about getting close and joining up what happens on the sun with what happens in space," one of the project's lead scientists tells the BBC. "The solar wind and coronal mass ejections—these big releases of material coming off the sun—we don't know precisely where they're coming from, and precisely how they're generated. Solar Orbiter can help us understand that."