Mission to the sun lifts off Saturday morning

Katie Ramirez
August 11, 2018

A heat shield made using carbon composite coated with ceramic will protect it from the extreme conditions, Nasa says.

Engineers are taking utmost caution with the $1.5 billion Parker Solar Probe, which Thomas Zurbuchen, head of NASA's science mission directorate, described as one of the agency's most "strategically important missions".

Over the next seven years, as it circles the sun, the probe will wrap around Venus seven times, each time slowing down and swooping closer to the sun. The probe will contain four instrument packages created to, among other things, trace the movement of energy and heat within the corona and help scientists figure out what accelerates solar energetic particles and solar wind. In reality, it will aim to eventually reach about 3.8 million miles away, well within the sun's atmosphere. Although the corona reaches millions of degrees, it's a wispy, tenuous environment and so the spacecraft won't need to endure such severe temperatures.

Scorching, yes? But if all works as planned, the inside of the spacecraft should stay at just 85 degrees Fahrenheit.

"We'll be going where no spacecraft has dared go before - within the corona of a star", project scientist Nicky Fox said in a statement.

The goal for the Parker Solar Probe is to make 24 passes through the corona during its 7-year mission.

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"We are ready. We have the flawless payload". Perhaps the best part is that Parker, the first living person to have a mission named for him, will watch the mission he pioneered lift off, too.

Roughly the size of a small auto, Parker will get almost seven times closer to the sun than previous spacecraft.

Solar wind can create a whole host of issues for humans - from messing with Global Positioning System communications to exposing astronauts in space to high radiation - and the Parker Solar Probe is launching on a mission to figure out where it comes from.

Scientists have wanted to build a spacecraft like this for more than 60 years, but only in recent years did the heat shield technology advance enough to be capable of protecting sensitive instruments, according to Fox.

Tools on board will measure high energy particles associated with flares and coronal mass ejections, as well as the changing magnetic field around the Sun.

When it nears the Sun, the probe will travel rapidly enough to go from NY to Tokyo in one minute - 700,000kmh - making it the fastest human-made object.

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