Published: Sat, August 11, 2018
Research | By Derrick Holloway

NASA scientist talks first mission to the sun

NASA scientist talks first mission to the sun

In all, the spacecraft will make 24 elongated laps around the Sun, closer than the orbit of Mercury, the innermost planet. "To send it into such brutal conditions is highly ambitious", said Nicola Fox, a project scientist from the Johns Hopkins University applied physics laboratory.

On each close approach to the sun, the probe will sample the solar wind, study the sun's corona, and provide close-up observations from around the star.

Solar wind can create a whole host of issues for humans - from messing with Global Positioning System communications to exposing astronauts in space to high radiation - and the Parker Solar Probe is launching on a mission to figure out where it comes from.

Over the next seven years, as it circles the sun, the probe will wrap around Venus seven times, each time slowing down and swooping closer to the sun.

Earth, and all the other objects in the Solar System are constantly plowing through what is known as the solar wind - a constant stream of high-energy particles, mostly protons and electrons, hurled into space by The Sun.

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The outreaching corona is hundreds of times hotter than the sun's actual surface, confounding scientists. While the shield will be facing temperatures of up to 2,500 degrees Fahrenheit, the spacecraft will be at a toasty but tolerable 85 degrees.

"As we send spacecraft and astronauts further and further from home, we must understand this space environment just as early seafarers needed to understand the ocean". The current close-to-the-sun champ, NASA's former Helios 2, got within 43 million kilometres in 1976.

This is the first-ever spacecraft to be named after someone still alive.

Sixty years ago, a young astrophysicist at the University of Chicago, Eugene Parker, proposed the existence of solar wind.

The spacecraft eventually will run out of fuel and, no longer be able to keep its heat shield pointed toward the Sun, will burn and break apart - except perhaps for the rugged heat shield.

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At 3:33 a.m. EDT, the Parker Solar Probe will launch from Space Launch Complex 37 on Florida's Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

It will set the record for the fastest spacecraft in history. "These gravity assists will draw Parker Solar Probe's orbit closer to the sun for a record approach of just 3.83 million miles from the sun's visible surface on the final orbits".

We'll be going where no spacecraft has dared go before - within the corona of a star.

Though the side facing the Sun will reach 2500F, the probe itself will be cooler at 85F, says NASA.

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