Why NASA’s Parker Solar Probe headed for the Sun won’t melt

Parker Solar Probe

Unlike many planetary exploration missions, which primarily orbit the planet itself, the Parker probe will be swooping closer and closer to the sun by way of an elliptical orbit that will include seven "gravity-assist" flybys of Venus.

Liftoff of the Dollars 1.5 billion mission took place from Space Launch Complex 37 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in the United States at 3:31 am EDT (1:01 pm Indian Standard Time). Its closest approach will put it at just 3.8 million miles from the Sun, at which point it should be the fastest-ever human-made object with a speed of 430,000MPH.

The first launch attempt on Saturday was postponed at the last minute due to technical problem related to a helium gas sensor on the rocket. The first data download from the Parker Solar Probe is expected in early December after the probe reaches its first close approach of the sun in November.

It is the first space craft to be named after a living person - astrophysicist Eugene Parker, 91, who first described solar wind in 1958.

In particular, it is hoped to give scientists a greater understanding of solar wind storms that have the potential to knock out the power on Earth. The carbon composite shield will experience 2,500-degree heating on the side facing the sun while keeping temperatures at a comfortable 85 degrees in the shade where the probe's instruments and critical systems are located.

When it nears the Sun, the probe will travel at some 430,000 miles per hours - the fastest ever human-made object, fast enough to travel from NY to Tokyo in one minute.

"The only way we can do that is to finally go up and touch the sun", said project scientist Nicola Fox of Johns Hopkins University.

NASA has billed the mission as the first spacecraft to "touch the Sun".

"Wow, here we go!"

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"This mission truly marks humanity's first visit to a star that will have implications not just here on Earth, but how we better understand our universe", said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator of NASA's Science Mission Directorate.

No wonder scientists consider it the coolest, hottest mission under the sun, and what better day to launch to the sun than Sunday as NASA noted.

Main objectives of Parker Solar Probe?

To reach its target, the Delta 4 Heavy and a solid-propellant upper stage had to supply enough energy to counteract Earth's 18-mile-per-second orbital velocity around the sun, allowing the spacecraft to fall into the inner solar system.

That will make it the fastest ever human-made object, speedy enough to travel from NY to Tokyo in one minute.

The Solar Probe Cup, dubbed "the bravest little instrument", is a sensor that will extend beyond the heat shield to "scoop up samples" of the Sun's atmosphere, according to Professor Justin Kasper of the University of MI.

The probe will zip past Venus in six weeks and make a first rendezvous with the Sun a further six weeks after that.

"So we're already in a region of very, very interesting coronal area", Fox said.

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