NASA has big plans for a new mission to the sun: A complex spacecraft, known as the Parker Solar Probe, will be launched in July 2018.
One of the main goals of the Parker Solar Probe is to explore the sun from only 3.9 million miles from the star’s surface.
Humans have never probed this close to the sun.
The probe will have to withstand temperatures up to 2,500 degrees. It has a special 4.5-inch heat shield made from carbon composite materials that will help it hold up.
But even with the shield, the instrument package must remain in the shadow of the craft for the electronics to perform properly!
At the time of closest approach, the spacecraft will be traveling some 430,000 mph. It will be launched atop one of America’ most powerful rockets, the Delta IV.
The probe will not head directly to the Sun, as this would cause the craft to be caught in the star’s gravity. Instead, the craft will be sent toward Venus and make some seven passes to slow the craft down and place it into solar orbit.
If all goes well, the probe will be ready to collect data by 2024.
Scientists hope to learn many things from the probe, such as why the surface of the sun is about 12,000 degrees while the solar corona (or atmosphere) is more than 1 million degrees.
The spacecraft was originally known as the Solar Probe Plus, but it was changed to the Parker Solar Probe to honor astrophysicist Eugene Parker.
He has been a leader in our understanding of the sun and the many mechanisms which power it.
Parker was one of the first to introduce the concept of a high-energy particles streaming from the sun known as solar wind. His theory was later confirmed by the Mariner 2 spacecraft in 1962.
You can listen to an interview I conducted with Adam Szabo, the chief of the Heliospheric Physics Laboratory at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, about the probe.
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