Nasa spacecraft heads to sun for closest look yet

14 August, 2018, 08:27 | Author: Sherry Houston
  • Why won't NASA's Parker Solar Probe melt

An artist's impression of the Parker Solar Probe, its heat shield pointed toward the sun as it heads in for a close flyby through the star's outer atmosphere.

Liftoff of the United States dollars 1.5 billion mission took place from Space Launch Complex 37 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in the U.S. at 3:31 am EDT (1:01 pm Indian Standard Time).

Zooming through space in a highly elliptical orbit, the Parker Solar Probe will reach speeds of up to 7,00,000 km per hour, setting the record for the fastest spacecraft in history.

The heat shield is built to withstand radiation equivalent to up to about 500 times the Sun's radiation on Earth.

At closest approach, PSP will hurtle around the sun at approximately 430,000 miles per hour.

That will make it the fastest ever human-made object, speedy enough to travel from NY to Tokyo in one minute.

"Now, Parker Solar Probe is operating normally and on its way to begin a seven-year mission of extreme science", said Driesman.

NASA has billed the mission as the first spacecraft to "touch the Sun".

Parker, who first theorized that solar wind existed 60 years ago, added, "It's a whole new phase, and it's going to be fascinating throughout".

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

Parker-Solar-1
NASA: Parker Solar Probe launches on mission to 'touch the sun' | Daily Star

"All I can say is, 'wow, we are in for some learning for the next several years,"' he said during a post-launch interview on NASA TV.

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

The probe makes use of a heat shield known as the Thermal Protection System, or TPS, which is eight feet in diameter and 4.5 inches thick.

Yet the inside of the spacecraft will stay at just 85 degrees Fahrenheit.

Q: What data will the probe be collecting, and what insights are scientists ultimately hoping to gain from these data?

"We are ready. We have the ideal payload". The data will also help to answer questions about how the sun's winds, eruptions, and flares shape weather in space, and how that activity may affect life on Earth, along with astronauts and satellites in space.

Altogether, it will make 24 close approaches to the sun during the seven-year, $1.5 billion undertaking.

It was the first rocket launch ever witnessed by Parker, a retired University of Chicago professor.

"I really have to turn from biting my nails and getting it launched to thinking about all the interesting things which I don't know yet, and which will be made clear, I assume, over the next five or six or seven years", Parker said. 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. Less than 2 minutes before its planned liftoff on Saturday (Aug. 11), a helium pressure alarm went off on the Delta IV Heavy, thwarting the day's launch attempt.

"I have learnt a very important lesson of my professional scientific career from him: to be generous to the ideas of others, as long as they are not obviously wrong, and even if they contradict my own personal views", he said.

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