Solar Probe Gets Cutting-Edge Heat Shield

Christopher Davidson
July 10, 2018

The heat shield is called the Thermal Protection System.

San Francisco: Ahead of its August launch, NASA's Parker Solar Probe - the mission aiming to get closest to the Sun than ever by any human-made object - has got its "revolutionary" heat shield permanently attached to the spacecraft, the U.S. space agency said.

Engineers from the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Lab install the thermal protection system, or heat shield, on the Parker Solar Probe. The agency has also invited media to see the entire spacecraft on July 13 at the Astrotech Space Operations in Titusville, Florida.

Though there is no shortage of materials on Earth created to withstand the temperatures the Parker Solar Probe is expected to encounter, the solution needed to be incredibly light.

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TPS is an 8-foot-diameter heat shield created to protect the spacecraft within its umbra or the shadow it will cast on the spacecraft. With the help of its revolutionary heat shield, the spacecraft and its equipment will be kept at a relatively comfortable temperature of about 85 degrees Fahrenheit. In the months since, the shield and spacecraft have been subjected to a series of intensive tests.

TPS is constructed like a sandwich. At 160 pounds, the shield is a very lightweight structure made up of two panels and a 4.5-inch foam core that's 97 percent air. The side that faces the sun is sprayed with a white coating specially formulated to repel the sun's energy from TPS. Engineers from the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Lab (APL) recently attached the probe's 160-pound (72.6-kilogram) thermal protection system, or heat shield, to the body of the spacecraft in preparation for its launch, scheduled for no earlier than August 4, 2018. As Parker Solar Probe travels so fast, at approximately 430,000 miles per hour, the shield has to be lightweight to achieve the desired results. It will be like traveling from Philadelphia to Washington, D.C., in about one second. The Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland, designed, built and manages the mission for NASA.

United Launch Alliance of Centennial, Colorado, is the provider of the Delta IV launch service for Parker Solar Probe. Come August 4, the Parker Solar Probe will venture directly into the sun's atmosphere, "where it will collect unprecedented data about the inner workings of the corona", notes the USA space agency.

The spacecraft will use Venus' gravity to conduct seven flybys over its nearly seven-year long mission. The spacecraft will fly into the Sun's atmosphere as close as 4 million miles from its surface and make critical observations that will answer decades-old questions about the inner workings of our nearest star. Earth's average distance to the sun is 93 million miles.

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