Friday, 26 April, 2019

Rocket fault delays the launch of Nasa’s solar probe

Illustrations of the Solar Probe Plus spacecraft leaving Earth. Pic JHU  APL Image An illustration of the probe leaving Earth. Pic NASA
Sandy Nunez | 12 August, 2018, 11:10

"Teams worked very hard this evening, diligently getting through the launch process, looking at everything that they had to to get into the terminal count this evening", Mic Woltman, of NASA's Launch Services Program, said during NASA's broadcast of the launch attempt.

Sixty years ago, a young astrophysicist at the University of Chicago, Eugene Parker, proposed the existence of solar wind. The launch window for the mission now closes on August 23.

When it does launch, the Parker Solar Probe will get as close as 3.83 million miles to the sun's surface.

NASA hopes the probe will help determine which parts of the sun are providing the energy source for solar winds and solar particles, and how they accelerate to such high speeds.

NASA has postponed until Sunday the launch of its unmanned Parker Solar Probe, to allow engineers more time to investigate a red flag that was raised in the last moment before liftoff. The forecast shows a 60 per cent chance of favourable weather conditions for the launch.

Weighing just 635 kgs, it is a relatively light spacecraft, said Andy Driesman, project manager for the mission at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in the US.

The probe, the size of a small vehicle, is due to make a seven-year mission to skim through the sun's atmosphere, enduring temperatures of 1,300C.

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The spacecraft eventually will run out of fuel and, no longer be able to keep its heat shield pointed toward the Sun, will burn and break apart - except perhaps for the rugged heat shield.

The Parker probe will swing close to the sun, then out around Venus, and back again, 24 times over the next seven years.

"Parker Solar Probe uses Venus to adjust its course and slow down in order to put the spacecraft on the best trajectory", said Driesman. It's the first time NASA has named a spacecraft after someone who's still alive. The current close-to-the-sun champ, NASA's former Helios 2, got within 27 million miles (43 million kilometers) in 1976.

There was not enough time remaining in the window to recycle.

The probe is protected by a 4in-thick shield that constantly repositions itself between the sun's power and the scientific instruments on board.

Even in a region where temperatures can reach more than a million degrees Fahrenheit, the sunlight is expected to heat the shield to just around 2,500 deg F (1,371 deg C).