Nasa launches Parker Solar Probe in mission to 'touch the sun'

Terry Joseph
August 12, 2018

The unprecedented sun-skimming probe that lifted off today from the U.S. is set to study the "solar winds" proposed in the paper by Dr Eugene Newman Parker, who has now become the first living scientist to have mission named after him.

The problem on Saturday had to do with the gaseous helium pressure alarm on the spacecraft, officials said early Saturday.

The probe is created to study the sun's ultra-hot outer atmosphere, called the corona, among other mysteries of our star.

This will be within 6 million kilometres of the sun's surface, closer than any other spacecraft has been before.

The project, with a $1.5 billion price tag, is the first major mission under NASA's Living With a Star program.

The goal for the Parker Solar Probe is to make 24 passes through the corona during its seven-year mission.

"We've been inside the orbit of Mercury and done awesome things, but until you go and touch the sun, you can't answer these questions", Nicola Fox, mission project scientist, told CNN.

The unmanned Parker Solar Probe aims to get closer than any human-made object in history to the center of our solar system.

The car-sized probe is created to give scientists a better understanding of solar wind and geomagnetic storms that risk wreaking chaos on Earth by knocking out the power grid.

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Sensors will make certain the heat shield faces the sun at the right times and it will correct itself if it ends up at the wrong angle.

These poorly understood solar outbursts could potentially wipe out power to millions of people.

Experts say a worst-case scenario could cost up to two trillion dollars in the first year alone and take a decade to fully recover from.

Knowing more about the solar wind and space storms will also help protect future deep space explorers as they journey toward the Moon or Mars.

"The unique requirements of this mission made the Delta IV Heavy the ideal launch vehicle to deliver Parker Solar Probe into orbit with the highest precision", said Gary Wentz, ULA vice president of Government and Commercial Programs.

"We are ready. We have the ideal payload". NASA chief of the science mission directorate, Thomas Zurbuchen, said Parker is an "incredible hero of our scientific community". Scientists have wanted to build a spacecraft like this for more than 60 years, but only recently did the heat shield technology capable of protecting sensitive instruments become available. It could be due to interactions between electrically charged particles and the sun's powerful magnetic field, or it could be the result of countless "nanoflares" governed by another mechanism.

"We'll also be the fastest human-made object ever, travelling around the Sun at speeds of up to 690,000km/h (430,000mph) - NY to Tokyo in under a minute". "We have not been able to answer these questions".

The Parker Probe is named after Dr. Eugene Parker, the astrophysicist given credit behind the solar wind theory in the late 1950's.

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