NASA to launch Sun-skimming spacecraft

Parker Solar Probe plaque

Thomas Zurbuchen, from NASA's Science Mission Directorate, said: "By studying our star, we can learn not only more about the Sun".

After the Parker Solar Probe blasts off from Cape Canaveral, Florida on August 11, it will become the first spacecraft ever to fly through the Sun's scorching atmosphere, known as the corona.

Now the launch date which will see the Parker Solar Probe get within 3.9 million miles of the Sun is finally coming up.

It's created to take solar punishment like never before, thanks to its revolutionary heat shield that's capable of withstanding 2,500 degrees Fahrenheit. During his seven-year mission, the spacecraft intends to go through the corona 24 times.

Liftoff is set for the pre-dawn hours of Saturday for this first-of-its-kind mission to a star.

The project was proposed in 1958 to a brand-new NASA, and "60 years later, and it's becoming a reality", said project manager Andy Driesman, also of Johns Hopkins, which designed and built the spacecraft.

The unmanned probe is named after Eugene Parker, the 91-year-old pioneering solar astrophysicist, and the USA space agency has coined it as the first mission to "touch the Sun".

Parker Solar Probe will perform its scientific investigations in a hazardous region of intense heat and solar radiation.

The two carbon-carbon sheets are just a tenth of an inch thick, meaning they are quite malleable.

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Then a layer of white coating was added to the heat shield as to reflect some of the heat and light. "But some very clever engineering and construction have succeeded in making what looks like a very workable instrument".

He first speculated on the nature of solar winds in 1958. With every revolution it will come closer to the sun. Helios 2 got within 27 million miles (43 million kilometers) of the sun in 1976.

The Sun-facing side of the probe will endure temperatures of about 1,370 degrees Celsius.

NASA's Messenger, which orbited Mercury from 2011 to 2015, provided insight into the solar wind but was too away.

Elisabeth Abel, thermal protection system, or TPS, lead, said: "This was the technology that enabled us to do this mission-to enable it to fly".

The US space agency calls this mismatch "the coronal heating problem", and hopes the Parker Solar Probe will solve the mystery of why the corona reaches temperatures of up to 10 million degrees Fahrenheit.

The Parker probe's final three orbits - in 2024 and 2025 - will be the closest.

"It's a pretty tough shield", said Fox.

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