NASA To Embark On Historic Solar Probe Mission

12 August, 2018, 02:59 | Author: Grady King
  • The spacecraft will use seven Venus flybys over nearly seven years to gradually shrink its orbit around the sun. Pic John Hopkins University Applied Physics Lab

One of NASA's biggest missions of the year takes off from Florida's Space Coast in less than 24 hours. The corona, however, is further away from the heat source, and should thus not be as hot. In seven years, the probe will be within four million miles of the sun's surface. As handsome as the corona is, it represents a massive headache for astrophysicists and solar physicists.

This is a journey into never-never land, you might say, where it's too hot for any sensible spacecraft to function.

What heats the plasma to a temperature 200 times higher than that of the Sun's surface?

There are other mysteries surrounding the corona as well.

The mission will track how energy and heat move through the solar corona, as well as explore what accelerates the solar wind. But they can also jeopardize the safety of astronauts aboard the International Space Station and the integrity of electrical grids on Earth. That stream of particles is now known as the solar wind. The only way we can do that is to finally go up and touch the sun. "We know the questions we want to answer".

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The U.S. Naval Research Laboratory's unique expertise in sun-viewing telescopes will be an integral part of the historic NASA Parker Solar Probe mission scheduled to launch August 11 to better understand how the Sun affects our solar system. However the solar corona from which the solar winds are derived also defies the principles of physics.

Zooming through space in a highly elliptical orbit, Parker Solar Probe will reach speeds up to 692,018 km per hour, setting the record for the fastest spacecraft in history. What's more, the mission is expected to last seven years, requiring great durability despite the extreme conditions.

The heat shield is made of a 4.5-inch thick carbon composite foam material between two carbon fiber face sheets.

The 65-minute window opened at 3:33 a.m., but the launch time was pushed back 20 minutes after minor issues with ground equipment before a mobile service tower could be rolled back from the rocket, and then concerns about sensor readings that delayed the start of fueling.

The powerful Delta 4 Heavy, ULA's most powerful launcher, will be making only its 10th flight since 2004.

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Following the launch the spacecraft will head towards Venus.

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.

But getting so close to the Sun requires slowing down - for which Parker will use the gravity of our neighbor planet, Venus.

Data gathered by the probe is also expected to help us learn more about space weather in general.

"The coolest, hottest mission, baby, that's what it is", said Nicola Fox, the project scientist at Johns Hopkins University. Don't forget to set your alarm clock!

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