NASA set to launch 'touch the Sun' spacecraft

Aug 12, 2018, 16:12
NASA set to launch 'touch the Sun' spacecraft

On Saturday, August 11, NASA will launch its Parker Solar Probe from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

The car-sized spacecraft called Parker Solar Probe is set to lift off on a United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy, carrying instruments to study the Sun both remotely and directly, according to NASA. The records will start falling with the first orbit, when the Parker probe comes within 15.5 million miles of the sun and beats the current record holder, NASA's former Helios 2 spacecraft.

"The Thermal Protection System (the heat shield) is one of the spacecraft's mission-enabling technologies", said Andy Driesman, Parker Solar Probe project manager at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Lab. The spacecraft is created to study the sun's outermost layer the corona to give us a better understanding of the magnetic fields it produces, how the solar wind is developed and other forces that dominate in this region.

Nearly everything on the spacecraft will be behind this and thus in room-temperature shade while ducking through the jagged edges of the corona, without so much as a blister on its science instruments.

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Icola Fox, Parker Space Solar Probe Project scientist said, "Why this atmosphere is continually expanding and continually accelerating away from the star".

He added that he is "impressed" by the Parker Solar Probe, calling it "a very complex machine". That's essentially what scientists have been doing with our solar system's sun - and for good reason - as it can reach more than 27 million degrees Fahrenheit. Its handlers will gradually bring the probe closer and closer to the Sun over its 6+ year mission, but by the time it begins its final orbits it's going to be moving faster than anything mankind has ever built before.

Scientists want to learn about the solar wind which causes geomagnetic storms.

When the spacecraft is closest to the sun in its orbit, this is known as perihelion.

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It's a fast-paced mission, with the first Venus encounter occurring less than two months after liftoff, in early October, and the first brush with the sun in November.

While it is hoped that the probe will retrieve some scientific data, the main goal is to simply record some images of the sun from a much closer distance than we are now capable of. Missions such as the Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO), the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) and the twin Solar Terrestrial Relations Observatory (STEREO) spacecraft keep a constant watch for sunspots, solar flares, coronal holes and CMEs. This is some 4 percent the distance between Earth and the Sun. By operating so close to the Sun, it will be passing through an environment with enormous radio interference. When the particles are spewed toward Earth with sufficient strength, the effect can disrupt radio communications, harm satellites, and in extreme cases, interfere with power grids. Sixty years ago, the young astrophysicist proposed the existence of solar wind. Then a long adventure lies ahead for the Parker probe. His work revolutionized our understanding of the sun and interplanetary space.

"And last but not least, we have a white light imager that is taking images of the atmosphere right in front of the Sun".

And scientists aren't the only ones along for the adventure - the spacecraft holds a microchip carrying the names of more than 1.1 million participants who signed up to send their name to the Sun. I'm sure that there will be some surprises.

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