Published: Thu, August 09, 2018
Research | By Jody Lindsey

NASA spacecraft set to begin 7-yr mission to "touch the sun"

NASA spacecraft set to begin 7-yr mission to

The Parker Solar Probe (PSP) will blast off from Florida's Cape Canaveral launch site this month. The launch window opens in the early hours of Saturday's morning, at 3:45 a.m. EDT (07:48 GMT), and will last for 45 minutes.

It is the first NASA mission to be named after a living person.

On its first pass by the sun, three months after launch, the Parker Solar Probe will already be closer to the sun than any other spacecraft has ever been - about 10 million miles out, or about 65 solar radii.

The solar probe is already prepped for the flight, reveals a new NASA photo that shows the spacecraft snugged inside its fairing atop the Delta IV Heavy rocket.

"Ever wonder what a spacecraft looks like tucked inside its protective capsule atop a rocket?"

In the coming week NASA is launching its Parker Solar Probe; a spacecraft that's specially designed "to touch the sun".

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The probe will arrive at its destination by looping around Venus on October 2 using a gravity assist maneuver that will control its approach to the star. It should reach its first point of close approach to the sun on November 5.

Cutting-edge thermal engineering advances allowed the creation of a 4.5-inch thick, 8-foot diameter carbon shield that protects the spacecraft and its instruments against the heat and energy of the sun's outer atmosphere, the corona, through which the spacecraft will fly.

"The Sun's energy is always flowing past our world and even though the solar wind is invisible, we can see it encircling the poles as the aurora, which are handsome - but reveal the enormous amount of energy and particles that cascade into our atmosphere". This shield doesn't weigh down the spacecraft but keeps the instruments aboard at a safe 85 degrees Fahrenheit (30 degrees Celsius). This means that if it doesn't launch on the 11th, there will be other opportunities for launch up until August 23.

The pioneering Parker mission is setting out to find answers to some of the most ardent questions concerning our understanding on the sun.

"By making direct in-situ measurements of the sun's atmosphere and immediate surroundings, Parker Solar Probe is poised to redefine solar and heliospheric physics as we now understand them", McComas said.

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