NASA Uses Lasers to Test Their Parker Solar Probe

Wednesday, 27 December 2017 - 8:34PM
Sun
NASA
Wednesday, 27 December 2017 - 8:34PM
NASA Uses Lasers to Test Their Parker Solar Probe
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NASA Goddard

NASA's Parker Solar Probe was given its name for a couple reasons. It's not just a probe that will run on solar power; it's a probe which will also travel extremely close to the sun as it explores our nearest star's outer atmosphere.

So the solar power is an advantage, to make an understatement. While it won't be launching for several months (assuming all according goes to plan), testing is currently underway. And to make sure the solar probe could actually do something useful with the heavy solar radiation that'll be coming its way, it was put through rounds of "laser illumination testing."

That may not look how you're picturing, but it's still cool. And, oddly, very purple:



The laser illumination testing was actually fairly simple, and didn't need to be so purpleNASA fired lasers at each of the probe's 44 solar "strings" (just a chain of connected solar cells) to make sure they reacted properly to the light, after the endless environmental tests the poor probe had to endure to make sure it could hold itself together without malfunctions.

The purple color was selected mostly because that color was readily available, according to NASA, and also because solar cells can process that frequency of light pretty efficiently. The fact that solar panels prefer the color of Prince is mostly coincidence.

According to the solar array's lead engineer, Ed Gaddy of the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Lab, who said the following in a press statement:

Opening quote
"This illumination testing verifies that each 'string' of solar cells on the array remains electrically connected to the spacecraft after vibration and acoustic testing."
Closing quote


The solar probe is currently scheduled to lift off from Cape Canaveral, Florida on July 31, 2018, with its destination being an uncomfortably close visit to the sun. Its goal will be to study solar weather and other mysterious quirks involving the star we orbit around, with a particular goal of investigating why the sun's atmosphere is hotter than its surface.

It'll be a rough journey, but until then, scientists are content with blasting it with purple lasers, which seems rather tame by comparison.


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