NASA is set to launch its Parker Solar Probe on a historic mission to collect data from the Sun. Specifically, the Sun’s corona, the outermost part of the star’s atmosphere. The goal will be to fly through the corona, scooping up particles and taking measurements to further scientific knowledge of the stars in our solar system.
The Parker Solar Probe was named for Dr. Eugene Parker, a physicist at the University of Chicago. Dr. Parker was the first to propose the existence of solar wind. This $1.5 billion mission is the first by NASA to be named for a living researcher. The probe was designed and built by the Applied Physics Laboratory at Johns Hopkins University.
The solar probe will be launched from Space Launch Complex 37 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla. aboard a United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy rocket. The probe will reach speeds of about 430,000 mph and must withstand heat of nearly 2,500 degrees Fahrenheit to complete its mission. Over seven years, the probe will position itself within 3.8 million miles of the Sun’s surface. That is about 23 million miles closer than the previous attempt.
To shield the components of the probe from the Sun’s heat and radiation, it will be equipped with a special 4.5-inch-thick carbon-composite shield. The probe will operate in the shadow of the shield to collect invaluable data for scientists. According to a statement by the researchers, the Applied Physics Laboratory will manage the mission for NASA and will operate the spacecraft from a mission operations center on its campus in Laurel, Maryland.
A mission to study the corona of the Sun was first proposed to NASA in 1958, when the agency was still in its infancy. While the Helios 2 spacecraft came within 27 million miles of the Sun in 1976, the technology for a probe to survive a closer encounter was not available until recently. Scientists expect the mission to further our knowledge of the billions of stars across the Milky Way and beyond.