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

James Marshall
August 9, 2018

"Another question we hope to answer is: Why is the solar wind accelerating up to very high speeds in the corona?".

Initially scheduled to launch tomorrow, the solar probe will be taking off "no earlier than August 11", NASA recently announced in a blog post.

The launch window will last for about 45 minutes, and it will start at 3:45 a.m. EDT.

This means PSP will be able to fly through the star's scorching-hot atmosphere, according to NASA scientists.

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.

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

Designed at Johns Hopkins University, the Solar Parker Probe will depart on the 11th from Cape Canaveral (the main center of USA space activities) on a mission that will last seven years and analyze the solar wind.

Every few orbits, the probe will use Venus' gravity to adjust its trajectory slightly, to make that distance of closest approach to the sun, the perihelion, get closer and closer.

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 mission will take off from Space Launch Complex 37 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

This will enable the probe to work on three main questions: why its atmosphere becomes hotter farther away from the surface of the Sun, how the solar wind of charged particles streaming out into space is born, and what causes the enormous outbursts scientists call coronal mass ejections.

Their first close encounter is slated for November 5, when the Parker spacecraft will begin its approach to the sun.

Thomas Zurbuchen, from NASA's Science Mission Directorate, said: "By studying our star, we can learn not only more about the Sun". Also on the agenda is an investigation into what triggers the coronal mass ejections, eruptions of scalding, charged material seeping into interplanetary space.

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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