NASA to launch first-ever solar mission to ‘touch the sun’

NASA to launch first-ever solar mission to ‘touch the sun’

Designed at Johns Hopkins University, the Solar Parker Probe will depart on the 11th from Cape Canaveral (the main center of USA space activities) on a mission that will last seven years and analyze the solar wind.

To successfully reach the sun, the Parker Solar Probe needs to leave Earth incredibly quickly - hence the massive rocket, which is second in launch power only to SpaceX's brand new Falcon Heavy rocket.

The $1.6-billion mission aims to improve forecasts of major space weather events that impact life on Earth as well as astronauts in space, NASA said.

While Nasa scientists have meant to launch a solar mission for decades, cuts made to the space programme by successive presidents have hampered development, while "only recent technological advances in cooling systems and fault management have made it possible" says The Independent.

During its last orbit of the sun, in 2025, the Parker Solar Probe will make history by plunging directly through the solar corona to gather as much data as possible about the sun's puzzling atmosphere.

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To help scientists answer these questions, engineers have outfitted the solar probe with a variety of instruments.

At closest approach to the sun, the front of the probe's solar shield will endure temperatures approaching 2,500 degrees. The FIELDS instrument suite, a series of antennas and magnetometers, will measure shape and scale of the corona's electric and magnetic fields. Eric Christian, a space scientist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, told UPI.

The spacecraft will fly in a loop between the sun and Venus' orbit for at least seven years, with four close flybys of the sun each year.

The car-sized satellite will be carried by a Delta-IV Heavy rocket, one of the tallest rockets launched into space since the Saturn V carried humans to the moon, and it will push the probe to the fastest speeds ever achieved by a human-made object, ultimately reaching 430,000 miles per hour.

McComas has been involved in designing and planning the Parker Space Probe for more than a decade, but the mission was first identified as a priority in 1958, at the start of the space age. While the launch window was due to close on August 19, NASA has managed to extend it for a few more days, until August 23.

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