S In the early morning hours of August 4, the Flordian Night is temporarily banished. One of the world's most powerful rockets, a Delta IV Heavy, will ignite. His fiery breath turns Cape Canaveral into thunder and light.
With the rocket, Parker Solar Probe (PSP) is on one of the most daring space missions ever devised. PSP flies closer to the sun than any previous mission. It will plunge into the solar atmosphere, where it will tolerate temperatures of around 1
The launch will be an emotional moment for everyone who has worked on the mission. This is especially true of his project scientist Nicky Fox. She is a Briton and now works at the Applied Physics Laboratory at Johns Hopkins University, Maryland, where she led the development of the PSP for the past eight years.
"You have spent so much of your effort, of your life, of your guards hours, to make this mission a success," she says. "I'm so affectionate, I'm so excited that I'm in the same room with the spaceship, it's like meeting Brad Pitt for myself or something."
In fact, as soon as our conversation is over, she goes to the clean room for the last time to say goodbye. After that, PSP is sealed into the nose cone of the rocket. She will never see it again.
A mission to fly into the solar atmosphere, known as the corona, has been on the astrologers' wish list for decades. It was even added to the original list of possible missions Nasa would pursue after the agency's creation in 1958 after the Soviet Union's Sputnik launch.
The reason for the interest lies in the fact that the sun provides us with the most mysterious scientific mysteries of all time. The sun's surface is about 6,000 degrees Celsius, and the corona is at least 3 million degrees. Since the corona absorbs its heat from the surface, it should not be hotter than the surface. It's like putting a pan of milk on the lowest possible hotplate and cooking the milk immediately.
Astronomers have developed a number of hypotheses about why the corona is so hot. In one theory, the rolling gas on the surface of the sun produces thunderous sounds, like waves crashing on a shore. If this noise can be transmitted to the corona, it could provide the energy to heat it up. Other theories suggest a variety of ways in which the magnetic fields generated in the sun can connect to the corona and provide the energy.
"It's the kind of thing you think we'd know by now," says Tim Horbury of Imperial College, London, also a member of the PSP science team. Beyond intellectual curiosity, there is a practical reason for wanting to know it.
The corona is not fully bound to the sun. There is one region – about 10 sun radii above the surface – where the heating becomes so intense that the gas dissolves from the sun and flows through the room. This "solar wind" consists of subatomic particles that were once in the sun. When it hits the earth, it makes our atmosphere shine, which causes the northern lights and the southern lights that enchant tourists visiting the polar regions.
In addition to the northern lights, the incident solar particles can interfere with satellite communications. Large gusts of solar wind, known as space weather, can even cause electrical disturbances in satellites and power plants on Earth. As we rely more and more on electronic technology in our daily lives, the understanding of the danger of solar wind becomes critical.
This means bringing a spaceship into the corona, where the solar wind forms. And that's where PSP comes in. "We've been waiting for sixty years for the technology to be able to handle such a risky mission, and it's really going somewhere we've never been before," says Fox.
After launching in August, the spaceship will fly past Venus in September and then fall to the sun. It is the first narrow pass, known as perihelion, which takes place on November 1, when it will pass within about 30 solar radii of the solar surface. Although this is twice as close as the previous carrier of the solar base, the Helios B spacecraft, but nothing compared to what the team wants to achieve.
First, PSP will maintain a highly elliptical orbit around the Sun, which will take about five months. But the plan is to get closer and closer to the sun. Eventually it will only go 6m above the hellish sun surface; that will bring it to the point where the corona becomes the solar wind. In addition, it will travel at a speed of around 200 km / s making it the fastest man-made object of all time. At this time, its orbital period will be three months. With the heat and speed, it will be the most extreme environment a spaceship should ever work.
"There is a great danger here, obviously the people who made the spaceship are extremely competent, but no matter how good you are, there is still a risk of doing something so new, our hearts are going to be awhile Be in our mouths until we see that everything will work, OK, "says Horbury.
Fox agrees. For them, it's all about this first flyby. "I think the first one will be the most annoying, I think once we get over the first, people will relax," she says.
And then the mission will settle in its own rhythm, determined by its five-month orbit. PSP has no cameras looking at the sun. Instead, his instruments are primarily designed to capture the particles and magnetic fields through which he will fly. These data are then downloaded to earth. The science teams will analyze it and determine the next scientific objectives of the probe before returning to the sun.
And there will be help with this Promethean mission.
Solar Orbiter is a European Space Agency mission currently under construction in the Clean Rooms of Airbus, Stevenage. Designed for launch after 2019, Solar Orbiter is watching what is happening on the sun and how it affects the solar wind. Instead, the spacecraft has telescopes that observe the sun and sensors to detect the particles that are flying past it.
It sits farther from the sun than PSP and hangs back with 60 sun radii. But even here the temperature is not a picnic. The heat shield of the Solar Orbiter must work with a continuous 600C. There is no cooling in space for a month or two to cool off.
Like PSP, it sits behind a heat shield. This special high-tech parasol will keep the spacecraft alive and able to work. "It's just much more exotic, like the insulation in your roof," says Ian Walters, Project Manager Solar Orbiter at Airbus.
And it's all about success and destruction for the mission. Should the spacecraft lose control or inadvertently turn the heat shield away from the sun, the unprotected areas will melt quickly if control is not restored immediately.
"You literally have tens of seconds," says Walters. 19659030] Artists commissioning the esa Solar Orbiter "src =" https://i.guim.co.uk/img/media/44e023268ea9dda70cef19ad5b7c59ff62900902/16_0_6578_3947/master/6578.jpg?w=300&q=55&auto=format&usm= 12 & fit max = & s = d66e03fe661eb83f8f22d0eba3f36b55 "/>
The problem is that a radio signal takes about eight minutes to get from the spacecraft to Earth – so it can not rely on engineers on Earth. Instead, it has to be programmed with all conceivable contingencies – and have computers that are fast enough to go through these possibilities in a few tens of seconds.
PSP has the same limitations as it goes through its perihelion. "We describe [PSP] as the most autonomous spacecraft ever flown," says Fox.
The great hope for the two missions is that they will operate at the same time so that their data can be merged. They are in no way competitors; In fact, Horbury describes the science teams as one community. Solar Orbiter is about looking at the big picture, and PSP is about getting close.
Both missions are expected to work until the mid-2020s, although everything can happen so close to the sun. Ultimately, it is expected that the knowledge gained will be fed into a real-time weather forecasting system. This will protect satellites and other electronic infrastructures from the threat of space weather.
Much is first ridden on the Parker Solar Probe and then on the Solar Orbiter. This is a high-risk, high-reward science. And perhaps the greatest achievements of the mission will be those we can not foresee.
"I think the probe will generate so much new data that it just changes the way we think about the sun, successful missions change your brain, you think differently about things, I hope we can For a few years, I will think about how the sun creates the solar wind and how it warms it in a completely different way that no one is thinking about right now, "says Horbury
. And for a scientist, these unexpected discoveries are the first trigger the biggest thrill.
Start: Space missions in development
Start date: October 2018
Built by : European Space Agency and the Japanese Space Agency
Mission : Scientists hope for a comprehensive investigation of the magnetosphere of Mercury (the area around the planet influenced by its magnetic field), internal structure and surface. The seven-year mission will start from Kourou in French Guiana.
Start Date: Planned for 2032.
Built: European Space Agency
Mission: The EnVision Venus Orbiter is one of three concepts that be considered for the Cosmic Vision Science Program of the European Space Agency ESA. The planned collaboration with NASA would map the planet's surface.
Start Date: July 2020.
Built by: Nasa.
Mission: The Mars Rover second generation mission of the Mars Exploration Program will drill a drill to study the geological history of the surface of the Red Planet and assess the potential for a past microbial life on Mars. It also tests a method for producing oxygen from the Martian atmosphere.
James Webb Space Telescope
Built by: Nasa, European Space Agency and the Canadian Space Agency
Mission: The James Webb Space Telescope becomes the Hubble telescope with 25 m² reflecting surface compared to Hubble's 4.5 m² (48 sq ft). It will also look further into the infrared spectrum and make it possible to see objects that are obscured by dust or gas.
Launch Date: Originally Launched January 2006
Built by: NASA
Mission: An additional Kuiper Belt mission was included in the plan recorded the interplanetary spacecraft that reached Pluto 2015. If everything goes according to plan, it will go further into the belt to the balls of rocks and ice. On January 1, 2019, there will be a flyby of an object known as the 2014 MU69 and give us the first glimpse of another Kuiper belt object as Pluto. Amy Walker