NASA's newest probe goes to the Sun and bears the name of a retired professor from the University of Chicago.
In 2017, the ship – initially called Solar Probe Plus – was renamed the Parker Solar Probe by astrophysicist dr. Eugene Parker.
"This is the first time NASA has named a spacecraft for a living person," said Thomas Zurbuchen, Assistant Administrator of the Authority's Science Mission Directorate in Washington. "It is a testament to the importance of his work, and it is the foundation of a new field of science that has inspired my own research and many important scientific questions that NASA continues to explore and pursue each day to honor his unprecedented legacy. "
Parker published research results in 1958 predicting the existence of solar wind when he was a junior professor at the Enrico Fermi Institute at the University of Chicago. At the time, astronomers believed that the space between the planets was a vacuum. Parker's first work was rejected, but it was rescued by a colleague, astrophysicist Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar, who would receive the 1983 Nobel Prize in Physics.
Less than two years after Parker's publication, his theory of the solar wind was confirmed by satellite observations. His work revolutionized our understanding of the sun and interplanetary space.
Parker is now Emeritus Professor of Chandrasekhar at the University of Chicago. In addition, Parker presented Parker Solar Probe's mission project scientist Nicola Fox with the first true-to-scale model of the probe and NASA's prestigious Public Service Medal.
"I am very honored to be associated with such a heroic scientific space mission," said Parker.
The Parker Solar Probe will carry a chip with photos of Parker and his revolutionary paper, as well as a plate with the inscription Parker desires – his message to the sun.
NASA's Parker Solar Probe will investigate the solar atmosphere in a mission expected to begin in early August. This is NASA's first mission to the Sun and its outermost atmosphere, called the Corona.
"The spacecraft is buttoned, looks beautiful and ready for flight", Nicola Fox, Parker Solar Probe Project Scientist at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory,
The launch window will open on August 6, between 4 and 6 pm EST and ends on the 19th of August. If everything goes according to plan, on the morning of August 6th, the probe will launch from Cape Canaveral on a United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy rocket, one of the most powerful rockets in the world. Although the probe is about the size of a car, a powerful rocket is needed to escape Earth's orbit, change direction, and reach the Sun.
The two-week window has been specially chosen because the probe will fall back on Venus. Achieve an orbit around the Sun. Six weeks after launch, the probe hits Venus for the first time. It is used to slow down the probe, such as. B. to pull on a handbrake to align the probe so on a path to the sun.
"The starting energy to reach the Sun is 55 times the size of Mars and twice the time needed to reach Pluto," said Yanping Guo of the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory had designed the mission trajectory. "In the summer, the Earth and the other planets of our solar system are in the best orientation so we can approach the Sun."
It's not a human's journey, so NASA sends about ten to probe the heat and radiation never before experienced by a spacecraft, but the purpose-built mission will also accomplish that task Questions that could not be answered before. Understanding the sun could also throw light on the earth and its place in the solar system, researchers said.
"We've been studying the sun for decades, and now we finally go where the action is," said Alex Young, a solar scientist at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center.
The probe will eventually orbit within 3.7 million miles of the Sun's surface. That may sound a long way off, but researchers equate this with the probe on the 4-yard line of a soccer field and the sun as the end zone.
The observations and data could provide insights into the physics of stars, and what we know changes over the mysterious corona, understanding of solar wind, and helping to improve the prediction of space weather events. These events can affect satellites and astronauts as well as the Earth – including the power grid and radiation exposure of airlines, NASA said.
The mission's objectives include tracking the flow of energy that heats and accelerates the solar corona and solar wind. It determines the structure and dynamics of the plasma and magnetic fields at the solar wind sources, and investigates mechanisms that accelerate and transport energy particles. "
" We were in orbit around Mercury and did amazing things, but until now you're walking and touching the sun, you can not answer these questions, "Fox said." Why did it take us 60 years? The materials did not exist to make it possible for us. We had to make a heat shield, and we love it. Something that can withstand the extremely hot and cold temperature shifts of its 24 orbits is revolutionary. "
The solar wind is the flow of charged gases from the sun that exists in most of the solar system, a wind that screams past the earth at a million miles per hour, and disturbances of the solar wind cause disruptive space weather that affects our planet
Space weather may not sound like something Earthly, but surveys by the National Academy of Sciences estimated that a no-warning solar event in the US would cause $ 2 trillion in damage and parts of the country would be out of power for a year
To reach orbit around the Sun, the Parker solar probe will make seven fly-bys from Venus, which will essentially provide gravity to the probe and shrink its orbit around the Sun over nearly seven years.
The probe will eventually be closer to the Sun than Mercury, it will be close enough to the Sunwi nd from subsonic to supersonic sound to observe.
When the sun is closest to the sun, the 4½-inch carbon composite solar panels must withstand temperatures of up to 2,500 degrees Fahrenheit. Due to its construction, the interior of the spacecraft and its instruments will remain at a comfortable room temperature.
Four sets of instruments will collect the data needed to answer key questions about the sun. FIELDS will measure electric and magnetic waves around the probe, WISPR will take pictures, SWEAP will count charged particles and measure their properties and ISOIS will measure the particles over a broad spectrum
The probe will reach a speed of 450,000 mph sun. On Earth, that speed would take someone from Philadelphia to Washington in a second, the agency said. The mission will also pass the origin of the highest-energy solar particles.
The mission is expected to end in June 2025.
"The solar probe is moving into a space-never-explored area," Parker said. "It's very exciting that we can finally take a look. One would like to have some more detailed measurements of what's going on in the solar wind. I am sure that there will be some surprises. That always exists. "