Published: Sun, August 12, 2018
Research | By Jody Lindsey

NASA postpones launch of first solar probe until Sunday

NASA postpones launch of first solar probe until Sunday

But if all goes according to plan, the probe will launch at 3:31 a.m. ET Sunday from Cape Canaveral, Florida, on a United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy rocket, one of the world's most powerful rockets.

As the Parker Solar Probe probe orbits the sun, it will experience extreme radiation and temperatures as high as 1,377C (2,510F) - close to the melting point of steel.

It is protected by an ultra-powerful heat shield that can endure extraordinary levels of heat, and radiation 500 times that experienced on Earth.

"Eight long years of hard work by countless engineers and scientists is finally paying off", Adam Szabo, the mission scientist for Parker Solar Probe at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, said in a statement.

With one minute and 55 seconds left on the countdown timer, a launch controller ordered "Hold, hold, hold" when a pressure alarm sounded, showing that there was a fault with the Delta IV Heavy rocket's helium system.

"Launch teams are working on technical issues and weather is predicted to be 70 per cent chance of favourable conditions", NASA said in a tweet late on Thursday.

The rocket with the Parker Solar Probe moments before a problem caused the launch to be delayed.

The probe is created to plunge into the Sun's mysterious atmosphere, known as the corona, coming within 6.16 million kilometres of its surface during a seven-year mission.

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The probe will be controlled from the Mission Operations Centre based at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (JHU APL), which is where NASA handles its unmanned missions.

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

It is created to withstand heat of up to 1,000 degrees Celsius, speeds of 700,000 kilometres per hour and a journey that will last seven years. "We know the questions we want to answer.".

Parker, now 91, recalled that at first some people did not believe in his theory.

"It was just a matter of sitting out the deniers for four years until the Venus Mariner 2 spacecraft showed that, by golly, there was a solar wind", Parker said earlier this week. The shield took more than a decade to develop and 18 months to build.

"We will also be listening for plasma waves that we know flow around when particles move", Fox added.

The probe is set to become the fastest-moving manmade object in history.

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