NASA set to launch Sun probe on Saturday

WISPR is built with telescopes that create a solar eclipse type image by blocking the actual sun so its atmosphere, or corona, can be captured.

The launch is now targeted for 3.33am EDT (8.33am Irish time), with an extended launch window through to August 23. Watch the launch tomorrow morning.

"Launch teams are working on technical issues and weather is predicted to be 70 per cent chance of favourable conditions", NASA said in a tweet late on Thursday. However, the launch period will remain open until August 23, as recently reported by the Inquisitr.

When the probe begins its final orbits it will be moving at approximately 430,000 miles per hour, according to NASA.

In an orbit this close to the Sun, the real challenge is to keep the spacecraft from burning up. It's expected to make the first Venus pass at the end of September. It will be used to help slow the probe, like pulling on a handbrake, and orient the probe so it's on a path to the sun. NASA will send the probe off on its mission with 55 times more energy than would be needed to reach Mars, the space agency explains.

The probe will have to withstand heat and radiation never previously experienced by any spacecraft, but the mission will also address questions that couldn't be answered before. We have to understand and characterise this place that we're traveling through.

Earth, and all the other objects in the Solar System are constantly plowing through what is known as the solar wind - a constant stream of high-energy particles, mostly protons and electrons, hurled into space by The Sun.

At Parker Solar Probe's closest approach to the Sun, temperatures on the heat shield will reach almost 1,371 degrees Celsius, but the spacecraft and its instruments will be kept at a relatively comfortable temperature of about 29.4 degrees Celsius.

The shield should enable the spacecraft to survive its close shave with the center of our solar system, coming within 3.83 million miles (6.16 million kilometers) of the Sun's surface. However, the inside of the spacecraft and its instruments will remain at a comfortable room temperature.

Before arriving at the sun, Parker will make seven Venus flybys in seven years, using the planet's gravity to get closer to the sun with each flyby. "Why has it taken us 60 years?" When it leaves Earth, it will be going too fast to get to the Sun.

"To send a probe where you haven't been before is ambitious". As we go from the surface of the sun, which is 10,000 degrees, and move up into the corona, we find ourselves quickly at millions of degrees.

Although much of the Sun's structure is still something of a mystery to us, the PSP is full of possibility.

The results can improve forecasts of the major eruptions on the Sun and subsequent space weather events, which damage life on Earth, to satellites and astronauts in space. And what powers the solar wind, the stream of charged particles that flows outward from the corona at speeds on the order of a million miles per hour? "We want to see all the different things that the sun throws at us". Now that the space agency has the technology developed, the mission to the Sun will be a reality. The 8-foot (2.4-meter) shield will face the sun during the close solar encounters, shading the science instruments in the back and keeping them humming at a cool 80 degrees Fahrenheit (27 degrees Celsius).

The Parker probe will get so close that the pressure from mere sunlight will be enough to flip the spacecraft around in less than a minute, Kasper said.

"It will provide us with a better understanding of the environment the Earth is in", Klein said.

  • Joey Payne