NASA to launch car-sized spacecraft Parker Solar Probe

Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory

Why is it so hard?

"It constantly flows out from the sun at about a million miles an hour and flows throughout our solar system", he said. The only way to get to the Sun is to cancel that sideways motion.

This image made available by NASA shows an artist's rendering of the Parker Solar Probe approaching the Sun. At its closest approach, it will pass within 3.8 million miles from the surface of the Sun. The probe will take NASA scientists closer to the sun than any other spacecraft has ever gone before.

At 3:33 a.m. EDT on August 11, while most of the U.S.is asleep, NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida will be abuzz with excitement.

"Parker Solar Probe uses Venus to adjust its course and slow down in order to put the spacecraft on the best trajectory", said Driesman.

The probe's mission is expected to take about seven years, during which time the world's solar scientists will learn an unprecedented amount about the ins and outs of the life-giving star at the center of our solar system. About the size of a small vehicle, it weighs a mere 1,400 pounds.

"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. "And it needs to be, because it takes an vast amount of energy to get to our final orbit around the Sun". NASA said Parker will eventually pass the sun during its final orbits at 430,000 miles per hour - fast enough to get from Washington, DC, to Philadelphia in one second.

NASA's Parker Solar Probe - the space agency's new spacecraft created to "touch the sun" - is packed up, buckled in and ready to launch during a window opening Saturday (Aug. 11) at 3:33 a.m. EDT (0733 GMT) from NASA's Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida, according to a NASA news conference today (Aug. 9).

"I haven't honestly decided whether I have the fortitude to get up at 2:30 a.m. and watch the webcast or not", Halekas, one of the project's about 100 scientists, said Friday.

The probe will have to do seven orbits over seven years around the sun, with gravity assistance from Venus, to reduce that sideways speed.

The launch window was chosen because the probe will rely on Venus to help it achieve an orbit around the sun.

The main goal of researchers is to study the solar wind. Each flyby will provide an orbit-shaping gravity boost, drawing it ever closer to the sun and straight into the corona - the sun's outermost atmosphere. A distance of 3.8 million miles from the Sun is impressively close. Inside the spacecraft, the probe and its many delicate and precise instruments will operate at normal temperatures, collecting data while in the Sun's corona.

The heat shield is a sandwich of carbon-carbon composite surrounding almost four and half inches of carbon foam, which is about 97 percent air. Vindication came with NASA's Mariner 2 spacecraft in 1962. Most weather satellites (GOES, Meteosat and Himawari, the ones that primarily keep tabs on Earth weather) have solar wind instruments. When these streams of plasma and energetic particles strike Earth, they interact with our planet's magnetic field, generating handsome northern and southern lights. This will be seven times closer.

NASA's Messenger, which orbited Mercury from 2011 to 2015, provided insight into the solar wind but was too away.

The corona is a "very unusual, unfamiliar environment for us".

The Parker Solar Probe is quite small, about the size of a small auto, and it weighs about 1,500 pounds. However, the launch period will remain open until August 23, as recently reported by the Inquisitr.

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