NASA counts down to launch of first spacecraft to 'touch Sun'

11 August, 2018, 20:34 | Author: Bertha Harmon
  • Nasa prepares daring mission to 'touch the Sun'

This historic event will send the probe "to touch the Sun", the space agency says, which anticipates setting a new "fastest spacecraft" speed record.

The records will start falling with the first orbit, when the Parker probe comes within 25 million kilometres of the sun and beats the current record holder, NASA's former Helios 2 spacecraft.

NASA's car-sized, $1.5 billion Parker Solar Probe is scheduled to launch on a Delta IV Heavy rocket from Cape Canaveral, Florida during a 65-minute launch window that opens at 3:33 am (0733 GMT).

Not only is the corona about 300 times hotter than the Sun's surface, it also hurls powerful plasma and energetic particles that can unleash geomagnetic space storms, wreaking havoc on Earth by disrupting the power grid.

On each close approach to the sun, the probe will sample the solar wind, study the sun's corona, and provide close-up observations from around the star. "It gives me the sense of excitement of an explorer". It's the fastest any man-made object will have ever traveled and the probe will likely hold that title for a long time.

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The spacecraft is expected to make its closest approach to the sun in the year 2024, as it flies 3.9 million miles above the solar surface.

"The sun is full of mysteries", said Nicky Fox, project scientist at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Lab.

A LEARNING OPPORTUNITY. Ultimately, the more we can learn about the Sun, the better.

The tools on board will measure the expanding corona and continually flowing atmosphere known as the solar wind, which solar physicist Eugene Parker first described back in 1958.

Parker Solar Probe is created to take solar punishment.

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Through this mission, NASA is hoping to solve decades-old mysteries around what accelerates the solar winds that affect Earth and other planets.

"As we send spacecraft and astronauts further and further from home, we must understand this space environment just as early seafarers needed to understand the ocean".

The goal for the Parker Solar Probe is to make 24 passes through the corona during its 7-year mission.

The probe is relying on a 4.5 inch carbon heat shield which has taken 10 years to develop and which is so strong it will survive for billions of years even when the rest of the spacecraft has disintegrated. While the shield will be facing temperatures of up to 2,500 degrees Fahrenheit, the spacecraft will be at a toasty but tolerable 85 degrees.

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