NASA to launch spacecraft that will fly into the sun’s outer orbit

Christopher Davidson
August 9, 2018

NASA is about to launch a $1.5 billion spacecraft on a brutally hot journey toward the Sun, offering scientists the closest-ever view of our unusual and mysterious star. The Parker Solar Probe, built at a cost of $1.5 billion, will take off from Florida's Cape Canaveral Air Force Base and fly into the sun's outer orbit, known as the corona.

The US space agency is launching a new mission in a bid to unlock the mysteries of our galaxy's burning star.

Understanding how the corona works will help scientists anticipate unsafe space weather storms, which can disrupt the power grid on Earth.

Brad Tucker, of the Australian National University's Research School of Astronomy and Astrophysics, said: 'Understanding the activity of the sun and predicting weather from it is crucial if we really want to have humans explore space more, including working and living on the moon and Mars'.

The unmanned probe, over five decades in the making, will last almost seven years and pass through the corona 24 times.

The spacecraft is protected by a heat shield that will keep it closer to room temperature, about 85 degrees Fahrenheit.

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Since Parker Solar Probe will skim through the Sun's atmosphere, it only needs to drop 53,000 miles per hour of sideways motion to reach its destination, but that's no easy feat.

Fox said scientists have already studied the corona "every way imaginable", and a closer look is now needed. In order to withstand the tremendous heat and solar radiation, the Parker Solar Probe will be protected by a 4.5-inch-thick carbon composite shield.

There is also a white light imager, taking pictures of what the spacecraft is about to "plow through", said Fox.

A 45-minute launch window opens on Saturday at 3:48am local time (1:18pm IST).

For its launch, the Parker probe - about the size of a vehicle - will be attached to a United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy expendable rocket; the second most powerful rocket in the world behind SpaceX's Falcon Heavy, which earlier this year carried a Tesla Roadster into space.

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