NASA scientist talks first mission to the sun

12 August, 2018, 00:00 | Author: Ann Santiago
  • Artist’s concept of the Solar Probe Plus spacecraft approaching the sun. Pic Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory

"For scientists like myself, the reward of the long, hard work will be the unique set of measurements returned by Parker", said Szabo.

The Parker Solar Probe, which could blast off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station as early as 3:33 a.m. Saturday, will dip down to within 4 million miles of the solar surface _ or almost 10 times as close as sun-scorched Mercury. The shield will keep the temperature-sensitive instruments on board the spacecraft at a comfortable 85 degrees Fahrenheit (30 degrees Celsius).

The coolest, hottest mission, baby, that's what it is.

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. We use Venus to give us a gravity assist, if I can have that Venus thing.

The solar spacecraft will collect data with a suite of instruments created to help our understanding of solar winds, their impacts on Earth as well as survey the outer corona, where solar wind is produced.

The sun's ever-changing conditions, its wind and storms can spread out into the solar system, affect Earth, our cellphones, our power grids, airline communication and much more. That's the steady, supersonic stream of charged particles blasting off the corona and into space in all directions. We've studied it from missions that are close in, even as close as the planet Mercury.

We see it every day, but our sun still poses countless mysteries.

This is where we live.

Weighing just 635 kgs, it is a relatively light spacecraft, said Andy Driesman, project manager for the mission at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in the US. Most of its instruments hide behind a giant heat shield that's nearly 8 feet (2.3 m) across and 4.5 inches (11.43 centimeters) thick. This foam is placed between two sheets of carbon fibres made up of specific properties, which become more resistant when the temperature reaches one thousand degrees. The front has a custom white ceramic coating to reflect sunlight; it's expected to glow cherry red when bombarded by the extreme solar heat. During its closest solar approaches, the spacecraft will hurtle through the corona at 430,000 miles per hour (690 kph), setting a speed record.

To help the public visualize the incredible speed, NASA says something traveling that fast could go from Philadelphia to Washington DC in a single second. Or Chicago to Beijing in under a minute.

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The main goal of researchers is to study the solar wind. He plans be at Cape Canaveral for the launch.

The launch of the probe is scheduled for August 11th from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

Parker got to inspect the spacecraft last fall.

"We can't agree on what's actually going on", Kasper said.

The memory card also contains photos of Dr. Parker and his groundbreaking 1958 scientific paper on solar wind. In March, members of the public were invited to be a part in the historic mission by submitting their names to be placed on a memory card that the spacecraft will take into space.

The big launch is now less than 40 hours away, with the probe's first close approach to the sun slated for November.

"We will fly by Venus seven times throughout the mission". NASA hopes the mission will help them better understand the sun and how it impacts life here on Earth and our assets, such as satellites, in space.

Those instruments tackle four different questions about the sun. "Sometimes you just see, like how over a lifetime, things just come together and create these awesome stories, these leaps going forward".

"We're very lucky that it's a seven-year mission", Fox said.

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