NASA to launch Parker Solar Probe to touch the Sun

Parker Solar Probe will explore the corona, a region of the Sun only seen from Earth when the Moon blocks out the Sun's bright face during total solar eclipses.

Jul 23, 2018 15:48 IST
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The US space agency NASA on July 20, 2018 announced to launch the Parker Solar Probe, a robotic car-size spacecraft, to study the Sun and reveal multiple mysteries behind the star.

The spacecraft will be launched in August 2018 on the United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy from Cape Canaveral in Florida.

This planned seven-year mission will fly into the Sun's corona within 3.8 million miles (6.1 million km) from the solar surface, seven times closer than any other spacecraft.

Parker Solar Probe

• Parker Solar Probe is part of NASA’s Living with a Star Program to explore aspects of the Sun-Earth system that directly affect life and society.

• The spacecraft has been designed to endure wicked heat while zooming through the solar corona to study the outermost part of the stellar atmosphere that gives rise to the solar wind.

• Parker Solar Probe will fly down within 4 million miles of the sun's surface, facing heat and radiation like no spacecraft before it.

• It will provide new data on solar activity and will help scientists in forecasting major space-weather events that impact life on Earth.

What made this mission a reality?

Technology like the heat shield, solar array cooling system and fault management system has made such a mission a reality.

The heat shield called the Thermal Protection System (TPS) is a sandwich of carbon-carbon composite surrounding four and half inches of carbon foam.

The solar array cooling system allows the solar arrays to produce power under the intense thermal load from the Sun and the fault management system protects the spacecraft during the long periods of time when the spacecraft can’t communicate with the Earth.

The probe holds the answers of scientists' outstanding questions

• Parker Solar Probe will explore the corona, a region of the Sun only seen from Earth when the Moon blocks out the Sun's bright face during total solar eclipses.

• The corona holds the answers of scientists' outstanding questions about the Sun's activity and processes. Scientists hope to learn the secret of the corona's enormously high temperatures.

• The spacecraft is also expected to reveal the mechanisms at work behind the acceleration of solar energetic particles, which can reach speeds more than half as fast as the speed of light as they rocket away from the Sun.

Parker Solar Probe uses four suites of instruments

The spacecraft carries several instruments to study the Sun remotely or directly. Together, the data from these instruments will help scientists answer three foundational questions about the Sun.

• FIELDS suite: Led by the University of California, Berkeley, the FIELDS suite measures the electric and magnetic fields around the spacecraft. FIELDS captures waves and turbulence in the inner heliosphere with high time resolution.

• WISPR instrument: The Wide-Field Imager for Parker Solar Probe (WISPR) instrument is the only imaging instrument aboard the spacecraft.

• SWEAP suite: The SWEAP (Solar Wind Electrons Alphas and Protons Investigation) suite uses two complementary instruments to gather data. It measures properties as velocity, density, and temperature to improve our understanding of the solar wind and coronal plasma.

• ISʘIS suite: The ISOIS suite (Integrated Science Investigation of the Sun) measures particles across a wide range of energies. The symbol ‘ʘ’ stands for the Sun.


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