Last-minute technical problem delays NASA's flight to sun

12 August, 2018, 11:09 | Author: Darnell Taylor
  • Illustrations of the Solar Probe Plus spacecraft leaving Earth. Pic JHU  APL

NASA postponed until Sunday the launch of the first ever spacecraft to fly directly toward the Sun on a mission to plunge into our star's sizzling atmosphere and unlock its mysteries.

NASA initially aimed to launch the Parker Solar Probe on July 31, but the agency and ULA repeatedly pushed the liftoff back to allow time to resolve issues with the mission's Delta IV Heavy booster.

NASA's $1.5 billion Parker Solar Probe spacecraft, the size of a vehicle, aims to plunge into the Sun's sizzling atmosphere and become humanity's first mission to explore a star. The sun's gravity will accelerate the spacecraft to record-breaking speeds during such encounters; at its fastest, the Parker Solar Probe will go about 430,000 miles per hour (690,000 km/h), NASA officials said.

The launch of a United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy rocket carrying the Parker Solar Probe spacecraft was scrubbed today due to a violation of a launch limit, resulting in a hold.

The weather forecast was expected to be about 60 per cent favourable for launch, according to ULA.

NASA has delayed the launch of a probe which will make a series of unprecedented orbits of the sun.

The probe is named after Gene Parker, who in 1958 wrote a paper theorizing the expansion of the solar atmosphere and solar wind.

The probe is protected by an ultra-powerful heat shield that is just 11.43 centimetres thick.

But it can withstand 2,500 degrees Fahrenheit (1,370 degrees Celsius) as well as extreme radiation, thanks to its high-tech carbon.

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A $1.5 billion Parker Solar Probe mission will fly through the sun's outer atmosphere within 6.4 million km of the huge hot star repeatedly, gathering key insights about solar structure, activity, atmosphere, solar winds and other features.

The probe will be controlled from the Mission Operations Centre based at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (JHU APL), which is where NASA handles its unmanned missions. "We know the questions we want to answer.".

The corona gives rise to the solar wind, a continuous flow of charged particles that permeates the solar system.

Parker, now 91, recalled that at first some people did not believe in his theory. Vindication came with NASA's Mariner 2 spacecraft in 1962.

"Parker Solar Probe uses Venus to adjust its course and slow down in order to put the spacecraft on the best trajectory", said Driesman.

Parker said he was "impressed" by the Parker Solar Probe, calling it "a very complex machine". The shield took more than a decade to develop and 18 months to build.

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.

"With each orbit, we'll be seeing new regions of the Sun's atmosphere and learning things about stellar mechanics that we've wanted to explore for decades", Fox added.

The probe is set to become the fastest-moving manmade object in history.

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