Friday, 19 October, 2018

NASA spacecraft set to "touch" the sun launches this Saturday

In Just One Week NASA Will Launch a Spacecraft to'Touch the Sun An artist's depiction of the Parker Solar Probe at work in orbit around the sun Credit NASA John Hopkins APL
Sandy Nunez | 09 August, 2018, 01:48

- A historic moment is coming for NASA on Saturday.

At about 4 a.m. on August 11, the Parker Solar Probe is scheduled to lift off from Cape Canaveral carrying ISʘIS, an instrument suite led by Princeton's David McComas to measure energetic particles from the sun's corona and the solar wind.

The $1.6-billion mission aims to improve forecasts of major space weather events that impact life on Earth as well as astronauts in space, NASA said.

"By making direct in-situ measurements of the sun's atmosphere and immediate surroundings, Parker Solar Probe is poised to redefine solar and heliospheric physics as we now understand them", McComas said.

Scientists say that it will study the sun's atmosphere and solar wind. The probe will be the first spacecraft to fly into the low solar corona-the aura of plasma that surrounds our closest star. The gravity assist is planned for 2 October, when the probe will have to be on track and approach the Sun on 5 November.

"We see these big storms happening on the sun and then see them collide with Earth", said Geronimo Villanueva.

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The spacecraft has undergone a brutal regimen of testing at the APL and NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center.

The sandwich-like layers of foam and carbon fiber, further insulated and strengthened with special coats of paint, create an incredible lightweight defense against the extreme temperatures the probe will encounter as it flies within 4 million miles of the sun's surface.

The four instruments onboard the spacecraft are a solar wind plasma suite, the Solar Wind Electrons Alphas and Protons (SWEAP) investigation; an electric and magnetic field suite (FIELDS); a wide field imager (WISPR); and the energetic particle suite, the Integrated Science Investigation of the Sun (ISʘIS). That flyby will kick off 24 orbits, performed over seven years, that will gradually pull the spacecraft closer and closer to our star. The probe will become the fastest manmade object in history as it speeds toward the sun.

The mission is named after physicist Eugene Parker who published a scientific paper in 1958 theorising the existence of the solar wind.

Likewise, scientists hope the probe's small-scale, short-term analysis will improve space weather prediction models.