Published: Sun, August 12, 2018
Research | By Derrick Holloway

NASA Postpones Launch Of Spacecraft To ‘Touch Sun’

NASA Postpones Launch Of Spacecraft To ‘Touch Sun’

Nestled atop a United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy - one of the world's most powerful rockets - with a third stage added, Parker Solar Probe will blast off toward the Sun with a whopping 55 times more energy than is required to reach Mars.

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. The mission is now scheduled for no earlier than Sunday, Aug. 12, at 3:31 a.m. EDT (0731 GMT) during a window that will remain open for 65 minutes.

Over seven years, the Parker probe will perform 24 orbits passing through the sun's outer atmosphere, or corona, investigating why it is so much hotter than the sun's surface and what accelerates the solar wind to supersonic speeds.

The car-sized probe is created to give scientists a better understanding of solar wind and geomagnetic storms that risk wreaking chaos on Earth by knocking out the power grid. "Parker Solar Probe has been one of our most challenging missions to date". The spacecraft is created to fly through the sun's super-hot outer atmosphere, called the corona, to study the solar wind and sun storms.

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The probe is protected by an ultra-powerful heat shield that is just 11.43 centimetres thick.

At Parker Solar Probe's closest approach to the Sun, temperatures on the heat shield will reach almost 1,371 degrees Celsius, but the spacecraft and its instruments will be kept at a relatively comfortable temperature of about 29.4 degrees Celsius.

The probe will fly into a region where temperatures exceed a million degrees Fahrenheit (555,000 degrees Celsius) but the sun is expected to heat the shield to a relatively modest 2,500 degrees Fahrenheit (1,370 degrees Celsius).

"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.

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The corona gives rise to the solar wind, a continuous flow of charged particles that permeates the solar system.

If the probe doesn't launch on Sunday, the window for a successful launch doesn't close until August 23.

Parker described the Parker Solar Probe as a "a very complex machine", and said he was "impressed".

When it nears the Sun, the probe will travel rapidly enough to go from NY to Tokyo in one minute - some 430,000 miles per hour, making it the fastest human-made object.

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