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LEGO launching NASA/ESA Ulysses solar probe as VIP reward set

April 13, 2021

— LEGO has a new mission for its recently-released space shuttle Discovery and you can get it for free — if you are a VIP.

The toy company is set to launch a brick-built model of NASA and the European Space Agency's (ESA) Ulysses solar probe on Wednesday (April 14), available to members of its customer loyalty program.

"Redeem 1,800 VIP points now for this NASA-inspired space collectible," LEGO teased on its VIP website on Tuesday.

The Ulysses set will be rolled out by region via 9 a.m. EDT in North America; 9 a.m. AEST in Australia and New Zealand; and in Europe, the Middle East and Africa, 9 a.m. CST and 10 a.m. CET, according to LEGO on Twitter.

Based on a published photo of the assembled kit, the LEGO Ulysses will include the solar probe, as well as the Inertial Upper Stage (IUS) and Payload Assist Module-S (PAM-S) that were attached to the sun-bound spacecraft when it was deployed from the space shuttle Discovery and were used to boost it out of Earth orbit toward Jupiter for a gravity-assist to circle the sun.

Originally scheduled for release with the NASA Space Shuttle Discovery set that went on sale on April 1, LEGO delayed the Ulysses probe reward due to an unstated issue. If designed to the same scale as the 1:70th orbiter, the Ulysses should be able to fit into Discovery's payload bay, offering a second "mission" for the orbiter after the Hubble Space Telescope included with the Discovery set.

The real Ulysses probe, which studied the sun for 15 years from 1994 to 2009, was also late to launch. Originally targeted for 1983, a number of delays, including the loss of the space shuttle Challenger in 1986, resulted in the spacecraft not leaving Earth until Oct. 6, 1990.

Lifting off with the STS-41 crew on board Discovery, the Ulysses probe was deployed from the shuttle's payload bay six hours into the four-day mission. The boost provided by the IUS and PAM-S accelerated Ulysses to about 10 miles per second (15.4 kilometers per second), making it the fastest human-made object launched from Earth until the Pluto-bound New Horizons probe in January 2006.

The first mission to survey the space environment above and below the poles of the sun, the Ulysses probe was a joint project by NASA and ESA. Over the course of its observations, the probe collected data showing that the solar wind weakens over time, that the sun's magnetic field reverses direction every 11 years and that the solar magnetic field at the poles was weaker than previously known.

During its extended mission, Ulysses also encountered three comets and passed through their tails.

Contact with the Ulysses probe was lost on June 30, 2009, after the spacecraft had operated for more than four times its design life. The total mission elapsed time — 18 years, 8 months, 23 days, 12 hours, 12 minutes and 44 seconds — is noted on a small display plaque included with the LEGO Ulysses set in the same style as those for the Hubble and shuttle that come with the Discovery set.


LEGO VIP members can redeem 1,800 points for a model of the Ulysses solar probe, a NASA and European Space Agency (ESA) spacecraft launched aboard the space shuttle Discovery. (LEGO)

The Ulysses solar probe is seen after being deployed by the space shuttle Discovery, beginning its 18-year mission to the sun. (NASA)

The Ulysses probe, attached to an Inertial Upper Stage (IUS) and Payload Assist Module-S (PAM-S), is seen in the space shuttle Discovery's payload bay prior to the launch of the STS-41 mission in October 1990. (NASA)

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