NASA spacecraft will aim straight for sun next year

Terry Joseph
June 1, 2017

Perched atop a heavy-lift United Launch Alliance Delta 4 rocket, the 1,500-pound solar probe is scheduled for launch from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station between July 31 and August 19, 2018.

The solar probe is set to launch in the summer of 2018 and its aim will be to better understand how stars work and answer questions like why the Sun's corona is hotter than its surface.

According to NASA, studying the physics of the Corona during the mission will also "help improve satellite communications, power grid issues, pipeline erosion, radiation exposure on airline flights, and astronaut safety".

NASA is making the announcement from the University of Chicago at 11 a.m.

Protected by a 4.5-inch-thick carbon-composite heat shield, the Parker Solar Probe will endure temperatures up to 2,500 degrees Fahrenheit while keeping its science instruments at room temperature.

It's worth noting that the probe will not literally touch the sun's surface - the closest it will get is about 3.9 million miles away. "We've really come as far as we can go with looking at things, and now it's time to go and pay it a visit", said Nicola Fox, a mission project scientist at the Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland.

The Solar Probe Plus mission will have to cope with temperatures and radiation unlike any other probe, but the data it will collect in the process will help astronomers predict solar storms and provide clues on some of the deepest mysteries surrounding our closest star.

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"Typically, NASA names missions after scientists that have also contributed to various sciences like astrophysics and so forth, typically after they have passed, so it's posthumously done".

At an event at the University in Chicago, NASA announced that it would be naming the spacecraft after Dr Eugene Parker, just days before Dr Parker's 90th birthday. The probe will be "ready to do battle with the solar elements as it divulges the secrets of the expanding corona", he said.

NASA is launching a probe to one of the most hostile environments imaginable: the sun.

McComas's part of the mission will explore in detail how certain particles in the solar atmosphere end up with very high energies. The mission, originally called Solar Probe Plus, was renamed after Parker during the event - the first time a spacecraft has been named after a living scientist. "One would like to have some more detailed measurements of what's going on in the solar wind".

As per the NASA officials, the temperature of the sun's surface is around 5,500 °C, but the temperature above it almost 2 million °C. So for years, NASA has been working on a high-tech probe capable of withstanding a brush with the sun. NASA is paying about $1.5 billion to build and launch the spacecraft.

Fox added that the spacecraft is now being built and tested rigorously, as it will have to endure some of the most extreme conditions imaginable.

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