NASA postpones launch of Parker Solar Probe

12 August, 2018, 11:13 | Author: Sherry Houston
  • Illustrations of the Solar Probe Plus spacecraft leaving Earth. Pic JHU  APL

NASA stated: "Parker Solar Probe will provide unprecedented information about our sun, where changing conditions can spread out into the solar system to affect Earth and other worlds". The launch window for the mission now closes on August 23.

A last-minute technical hitch forced controllers at the Florida space centre to cancel the night-time launch of the Parker Solar Probe, announcing that they would try again on Sunday. The $1.5 million mission is already a week late because of rocket issues.

The probe was scheduled to take off from Florida's Cape Canaveral at 9.28am United Kingdom time, but just one minute and 55 seconds before launch it was cancelled after a technical fault.

By coming closer to the Sun than any spacecraft in history, the unmanned probe's main goal is to unveil the secrets of the corona, the unusual atmosphere around the Sun.

Parker said he was "impressed" by the Parker Solar Probe, calling it "a very complex machine".

If it launches successfully at the same time on Sunday, the probe will reach speeds of up to 430,000 miles per hour (700,000 km/h).

The reason for the delay was not immediately clear, but was called for after a gaseous helium alarm was sounded in the last moments before liftoff, officials said.

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The probe is protected by a 4in-thick shield that constantly repositions itself between the sun's power and the scientific instruments on board.

"We'll be going where no spacecraft has dared go before - within the corona of a star", said project scientist Nicky Fox from Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory. It will fly by our solar system's hottest planet seven times over seven years, using the gravity of Venus to shrink its own oval orbit and draw increasingly closer to the sun.

The probe is named after Eugene Parker, a solar physicist who in 1958 first predicted the existence of the solar wind, the stream of charged particles and magnetic fields that flow continuously from the Sun.

"Parker Solar Probe uses Venus to adjust its course and slow down in order to put the spacecraft on the best trajectory", said Driesman.

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.

It will get more than seven times closer than the current record holder for a close solar pass, a record set by the Helios 2 spacecraft in 1976.

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