NASA to launch spacecraft that will fly into the sun’s outer orbit

Federico Mansilla
Agosto 11, 2018

Parker Solar Probe will travel through the Sun's atmosphere, closer to the surface than any spacecraft before it, facing brutal heat and radiation conditions - and ultimately providing humanity with the closest-ever observations of a star.

This Saturday, the 11th August, NASA will launch the $1.5 billion Parker Solar Probe on a first-of-its-kind mission to "touch" the Sun.

The Parker Solar Probe, named after American solar astrophysicist Eugene Parker, will, as the United States space agency describes it, "touch the sun" as it flies within 3.9 million miles of the star's surface.

It's created to take solar punishment like never before, thanks to its revolutionary heat shield that's capable of withstanding 2,500 degrees Fahrenheit.

The unmanned probe, over five decades in the making, will last almost seven years and pass through the corona 24 times. Pictures of Corona will be taken through the spacecraft and the surface will be measured.

Eugene Parker, 91, professor emeritus at the University of Chicago, predicted the existence of solar wind 60 years ago. Parker also described the problem of the heating of the corona.

Parker got to inspect the spacecraft last fall. "But some very clever engineering and construction have succeeded in making what looks like a very workable instrument". Despite skepticism, NASA's Mariner 2 spacecraft proved Parker right in 1962.

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It's a fast-paced mission, with the first Venus encounter occurring less than two months after liftoff, in early October, and the first brush with the sun in November. With every revolution it will come closer to the sun.

The spacecraft is expected to make its closest approach to the sun in the year 2024, as it flies 3.9 million miles above the solar surface. Helios 2 got within 27 million miles (43 million kilometers) of the sun in 1976.

Elisabeth Abel, thermal protection system, or TPS, lead, said: "This was the technology that enabled us to do this mission-to enable it to fly". "So really the only way we can now do it is to do this daring mission to plunge into the corona".

Temperatures in the corona are up to 500,000 degrees celsius and, for an unknown reason, far exceeds the heat of the sun's core.

The Parker probe's final three orbits - in 2024 and 2025 - will be the closest.

The final result sees the front and back of the heat shield made of carbon-carbon - a material designed for scorching temperatures.

"It's a pretty tough shield", said Fox.

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