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Home / Science / NASA is preparing to launch Parker Solar Probe, a mission to touch the sun

NASA is preparing to launch Parker Solar Probe, a mission to touch the sun



Illustration of the NASA Parker Solar Probe leaving Earth. Credit: NASA / Johns Hopkins APL / Steve Gribben

Early in the morning of August, the sky will light up at Cape Canaveral, Florida, with the launch of Parker Solar Probe. At the earliest on August 6, 201

8, a Delta IV-Heavy of the United Launch Alliance will thunder into space with a space-sweeping spaceship that will examine the sun more closely than any human object ever.

On July 20, 2018, Nicky Fox, Parker Solar Probe Project Scientist at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Lab in Laurel, Maryland, and Alex Young, Deputy Director of Science in the Heliophysics Science Division at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center at Greenbelt , Maryland, presented the scientific objectives of Parker Solar Probe and the technology behind it at a NASA Kennedy Space Center televised press conference in Cape Canaveral, Florida.

"We study the sun for decades and now we are finally going to where the action is," said Young.

Our sun is much more complex than it seems at first glance. The sun is not a dynamic and magnetically active star, but the solid, invariable disk that appears to human eyes. The atmosphere of the Sun constantly sends magnetized material outward, enveloping our solar system far beyond the orbit of Pluto and affecting every world on the way. Magnetic bundles of energy can radiate with light and particles that move through space causing temporary disturbances in our atmosphere. Sometimes radio and communication signals clog up near the earth. The influence of solar activity on Earth and other worlds is collectively referred to as space weather, and the key to understanding its origins lies in understanding the Sun itself.

"The sun's energy is always flowing past our world," Fox said. "And although the solar wind is invisible, we can see it orbiting the poles, like the polar lights, which are beautiful – but reveal the enormous amount of energy and particles that cascade into our atmosphere." We have no strong understanding of mechanisms, which direct this wind on us, and we want to discover that. "

This is where Parker Solar Probe comes into play. The spaceship has a range of instruments to study the sun remotely and in situ or directly. Taken together, the data from these state-of-the-art tools should help scientists answer three basic questions about our star.

One of these questions is the mystery of the acceleration of the solar wind, the constant outflow of the sun. Although we largely capture the origins of the solar wind on the Sun, we know that there is one point – still unobserved – at which the solar wind is accelerated to supersonic speed. Data shows that these changes occur in the corona, a region of the solar atmosphere through which the Parker Solar Probe passes directly through, and scientists plan to use Parker Solar Probe's remote and in-situ measurements to illuminate.


Parker Solar The probe will emerge within 4 million miles of the Sun's surface, exposing it to heat and radiation like no starship in front of it. Parker Solar Probe will provide new solar activity data in 2018 and will make important contributions to the prediction of space events affecting life on Earth. Source: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

Second, scientists hope to learn the secret of the enormously high temperatures of the corona. The visible surface of the sun is about 10,000 F – but for reasons that we do not fully understand, the corona is hundreds of times hotter, up to several million degrees F. That's nonsensical as the sun's energy is being generated by it

"It's a bit like running away from a campfire and suddenly getting hotter," Fox said.

Finally, the instruments of Parker Solar Probe should show the mechanisms behind the acceleration of solar energetic particles. These can reach speeds in excess of half the speed of light as they fly away from the sun. Such particles can interfere with satellite electronics, especially for satellites outside the Earth's magnetic field.

Parker Solar Probe uses four sets of instruments to answer these questions.

The FIELDS suite, led by the University of California, Berkeley, measures the electric and magnetic fields around the spacecraft. FIELDS detects waves and turbulence in the inner heliosphere with high temporal resolution to understand the fields associated with waves, shocks and magnetic reconnection, a process in which magnetic field lines reorient themselves explosively.

The WISPR instrument, short for Wide-Field Imager Parker Solar Probe is the only imaging tool aboard the spacecraft. WISPR takes pictures of structures such as coronal mass ejections, or CMEs, jets, and other ejections from the sun, to help link what happens in the large coronal structure to the detailed physical measurements taken directly in the near sun. WISPR is manufactured by the Naval Research Laboratory in Washington, D.C. directed.

Another suite, called SWEAP (short for Solar Wind Electrons Alphas and Protons Investigation), uses two complementary tools to collect data. The SWEAP instrument suite counts the most abundant particles in the solar wind – electrons, protons, and helium ions – and measures properties such as velocity, density, and temperature to improve our understanding of solar wind and coronal plasma. SWEAP is headed by the University of Michigan, the University of California, Berkeley, and the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

A Sun-skimming mission such as Parker Solar Probe has been a dream of scientists for decades, but only recently has technology become available In order to make such a mission a reality, such as heat shield, cooling system for solar systems and fault management system. Credit: NASA / Johns Hopkins APL / Ed Whitman

The IS-IS suite – short for "Integrated Science Investigation of the Sun" – contains the symbol for the sun, whose acronym measures particles over a wide range of energies. By measuring electrons, protons and ions, IS becomes? IS understand the life cycles of the particles – where they come from, how they were accelerated and how they move away from the sun through the interplanetary space. IS? IS is run by Princeton University in New Jersey.

Parker Solar Probe is a sixty-year mission. With the onset of the space age, humanity has been introduced to the full dimension of the Sun's strong influence over the solar system. In 1958, the physicist Eugene Parker published a groundbreaking scientific paper that theoretically describes the existence of the solar wind. The mission was named after him and is the first NASA mission to be named after a living person.

It's only in recent decades that technology has come far enough to make Parker Solar Probe a reality. Crucial to the spacecraft's bold journey are three groundbreaking achievements: the state-of-the-art heat shield, solar cooling system, and advanced fault management system

"The heat shield is a mission of the spacecraft," explains Andy Driesman, Parker Solar Probe project manager at Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Lab. "This allows the spacecraft to be operated at about room temperature."

Other important innovations include the solar array cooling system and on-board fault management systems. The solar array cooling system allows the solar arrays to generate power under the strong thermal load of the sun, and the fault management system protects the spacecraft during the long periods when the spacecraft can not communicate with the earth.

With seven solar sensors mounted around the shadow edges of the heat shield, the Parker Solar Probe fault management system protects the spacecraft during long periods of inability to communicate with the Earth. When it detects a problem, Parker Solar Probe will correct its course and point out that its scientific instruments will remain cool and functional during long periods when the spacecraft is not in contact with the earth.

Parker Solar Probe The thermal protection system, or TPS, is a sandwich of carbon-carbon composite that surrounds nearly four and a half inches of carbon foam, which is about 97% air. Although it has a diameter of nearly eight feet, the TPS adds only about 160 pounds to the mass of Parker Solar Probe because of its lightweight materials.

Parker Solar Probe will explore the corona, a region of the sun that is seen only from Earth when the moon is bright during total solar eclipses Face of the sun blocked. The corona contains answers to many open questions from scientists about the activities and processes of the sun. This picture was taken during the Total Solar Eclipse on August 21, 2017. Credit: NASA / Gopalswamy

Although the Delta IV Heavy is one of the most powerful rockets in the world, Parker Solar Probe is relatively small, about the size of a small car. What Parker Solar Probe needs, however, is that energy that reaches the Sun requires a lot of energy at launch to reach orbit around the Sun. That's because every object launched from Earth flies around the Sun at the same speed as Earth – about 18.5 miles per second – so an object must travel incredibly fast to counteract that impulse Change direction and approach the sun. [19659005] The timing of the launch of Parker Solar Probe – between about 4:00 am and 6:00 am EDT and within a span of about two weeks – was chosen very carefully to send Parker Solar Probe to its first key target for such an orbit : Venus. 19659005] "The launch energy to reach the Sun is 55 times the size of Mars and twice the size of Pluto," said Yanping Guo of Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory, who designed the mission trajectory. "In the summer, the Earth and the other planets in our solar system are in the most favorable orientation so we can approach the Sun."

The spacecraft will perform a gravitational assist to direct part of its velocity into the Venus well of the orbital energy, which pulls Parker Solar Probe into orbit, bringing it closer to the Sun's surface on its first pass than any other Spaceship ever inside the corona. Parker Solar Probe will perform six similar maneuvers during its seven-year mission and propel the spacecraft to the final sequence of orbits just over 3.8 million miles from the photosphere.

"By studying our star, we can not only learn more about the sun," said Thomas Zurbuchen, deputy administrator of the NASA mission directorate. "We can also learn more about all the other stars in the galaxy, the universe and even the beginning of life."


Further research:
A state-of-the-art heat shield was installed at NASA's Parker Solar Probe

Provided by:
Goddard Space Flight Center of NASA


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