NASA's First Mission to The Sun is Entering Its Final Preparations Before Launch

Sunday, 08 April 2018 - 1:48PM
Space
Sun
NASA
Sunday, 08 April 2018 - 1:48PM
NASA's First Mission to The Sun is Entering Its Final Preparations Before Launch
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NASA Goddard
There isn't much that can approach a powerful star like the sun without burning up from the heat. And that's part of what makes the Parker Solar Probe so significant.

Due to launch at the end of this July, NASA's new probe is set to orbit directly through the sun's outer atmosphere - more commonly called its corona - and study solar winds, the materials the sun expels, and other quirks which could be detected simply by moving that close to the sun's surface. It's the first mission of its kind, and NASA is entering the final stage of preparations before the Parker Solar Probe launches.

The probe just arrived at Astrotech Space Operations in Titusville, Florida this past weekend for its final tune-ups, before it's finally attached to the Delta IV Heavy rocket (from United Launch Alliance, and the second highest-capacity rocket in use today after the Falcon Heavy). After that, all that's left to do is launch it toward the sun. 

It was previously staying at a different facility in Maryland (the John Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory), where scientists continually fired lasers at the probe to ensure its solar panels worked properly. Andy Driesman, who led the project at that lab, called its flight to Florida "the second most important flight Parker Solar Probe will make".



Like most of the tests and additions to the probe, its time in Titusville will be focused on ensuring that it survives within the sun's intense heat. Like we mentioned before, NASA had lasers fired at the probe's solar panels to make sure they could handle the intense solar radiation they'll be absorbing, but the probe's biggest defense against the sun still has to be applied.

That would be the thermal protection system (TPS), which is essentially just an enormously powerful heat shield. The Parker Solar Probe will be coming within 3.8 million miles of the sun's surface, which seems like a lot until you remember that the sun's diameter is 864,938 miles (1.392 million kilometers). The TPS is going to be what keeps the probe from melting or breaking down in this heat.

The probe is officially set to launch on July 31, 2018 from Kennedy Space Center, to begin its seven year mission to and around the sun. So this really was its last flight before being blasted off into the center of our solar system.
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