NASA’s Parker Solar Probe Begins Its Landmark Mission to the Sun

Cesar Mills
August 14, 2018

NASA on Sunday launched a "dangerous" mission to get closer than it ever gotten before to the Sun, its corona and solar wind.

Knowing more about the solar wind and space storms will also help protect future deep space explorers as they journey towards the Moon or Mars.

A triple-core Delta IV Heavy rocket blasted off from Cape Canaveral just after 3:30 a.m. Sunday, momentarily turning night into day in a spectacle visible for miles along the Florida coast.

The launch was initially supposed to take place on July 31, but several technical issues pushed the attempt back to Aug 11.

These will help determine the structure and dynamics of the magnetic fields at the sources of solar wind, trace the flow of energy that heats the corona and accelerates the solar wind, and determine what mechanisms accelerate and transport energetic particles.

Over the course of almost seven years and 24 solar orbits, the probe will make use of seven Venus flybys to adjust its trajectory. The trick was making the spacecraft compact and light enough to travel at incredible speeds and durable enough to withstand the punishing environment.

"We are going to be in an area that is so exciting, where solar wind - we believe - will be accelerating", said NASA planetary science division director Jim Green.

According to the United States space agency, Parker Solar Probe has been created to withstand the extreme conditions and temperature fluctuations for the mission.

Yet the inside of the spacecraft should stay at just 85 degrees Fahrenheit. The Parker Solar Probe is completely dependent on its directional heat shield for survival.

The probe is guarded by an ultra-powerful heat shield that can endure unprecedented levels of heat, and radiation 500 times that experienced on Earth.

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"We've accomplished something that decades ago, lived exclusively in the realm of science fiction", he added, describing the probe as one of NASA's "strategically important" missions.

The probe will get within 3.8 million miles (6 million kilometres) of the sun's surface after travelling at a record-breaking 430,000 mph.

The SWEAP Investigation is the set of instruments on the spacecraft that will directly measure the properties of the plasma in the solar atmosphere during these encounters.

The probe is protected by heat shields capable of withstanding temperatures up to 2500 degrees Fahrenheit, and it will complete 24 orbits of the sun by 2025, reaching speeds up to 430,000 miles per hour.

Roughly the size of a small vehicle, PSP will get almost seven times closer to the sun than any previous spacecraft. The spacecraft will also be prepared for the first of seven planned Venus flybys scheduled for October 2.

"All I have to say is wow, here we go".

It is the first space craft to be named after a living person - astrophysicist Eugene Parker, 91, who first described solar wind in 1958. "We've looked at it, we've studied it from missions that are close in - even as close as the planet Mercury - but we have to go there".

"So we're already in a region of very, very interesting coronal area", Fox said.

Finally, after two firings of the second-stage engine, the Parker Solar Probe and its Northrup Grumman solid-fuel upper stage were released from the Delta 4.

Other reports by GizPress

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