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. While facing brutal heat and radiation, the mission will reveal fundamental science behind what drives the solar wind, the constant outpouring of material from the sun that shapes planetary atmospheres and affects space weather near Earth.
The 8-foot (2.4-metre) heat shield will serve as an umbrella that will shade the spacecraft's scientific instruments, with on-board sensors adjusting the protective cover as necessary so that nothing gets fried.
Named after Eugene Parker, the solar astrophysicist who first proposed the theory of solar wind in the mid-1950s, this is the first NASA mission named after a living person. Thus two probes which trace their lineage to MIT Professor Herb Bridge will be making measurements at opposite ends of the solar system, from as close as you can get to the sun to as far away as the local interstellar medium. Among the puzzlers: Why is the corona hundreds of times hotter than the surface of the sun and why is the sun's atmosphere continually expanding and accelerating, as Parker accurately predicted in 1958?
NASA launched a space probe early Sunday that will go closer to the Sun than any spacecraft before, the agency announced. The second is how does a solar wind start?
The probe failed to launch in its original Saturday slot after missing a 45-minute window, NASA said.
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At closest approach, when the probe will hurtle around the Sun at approximately 700,000 kilometres per hour, the front of the solar shield will face temperatures approaching 1,377 degrees Celsius.
From Earth, it is 93 million miles (150 million kilometers) to the sun, and the Parker probe will be within 4 percent of that distance at its closest.
Rocket maker United Launch Alliance said it would try again Sunday, provided the helium-pressure issue can be resolved quickly.
Parker Solar Probe carries four instrument suites created to study magnetic fields, plasma and energetic particles, and capture images of the solar wind.
Among them are the FIELDS suite that measures the electric and magnetic fields around the spacecraft and SWEAP that counts particles in the solar wind and measures their velocity, density and temperature. He and other scientists designed an instrument called the solar probe cup. "The way I like to think about it: In 10 to 20 years, a carbon disk will be floating around the sun in orbit, and it will be around until the end of the solar system". NASA is bragging that the craft, known as the Parker Probe, will actually "touch the sun".
NASA has billed the mission as the first spacecraft to "touch the Sun". He's now 91 and eager to see the solar probe soar.