All You Want to Know About NASA’s Parker Solar Probe Mission
The project, with a $1.5 billion price tag, is the first major project under NASA’s Living With a Star programme.
The project, with a $1.5 billion price tag, is the first major project under NASA’s Living With a Star programme.(Photo Courtesy: NASA)

All You Want to Know About NASA’s Parker Solar Probe Mission

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), on Sunday, 12 August 2018 launched the Parker solar probe with the aim of studying the sun closer than any man-made object ever.

The project, with a $1.5 billion price tag, is the first major project under NASA’s Living With a Star programme.

The Solar probe is named after solar physicist Eugene Parker, who first described solar winds back in 1958. He is still alive and watched the launch at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, being the first living person to have a spacecraft named after him.

Eugene Parker watches the launch of NASA’s Parker solar probe named after him. This is the first agency mission named after a living person.
Eugene Parker watches the launch of NASA’s Parker solar probe named after him. This is the first agency mission named after a living person.
(Photo Courtesy: NASA)

The unmanned car-sized spacecraft is the first mission that will explore a star and will fly directly into the sun's atmosphere, the corona, which is 300 times hotter than the sun's surface. The probe will help scientists understand space storms better.

Protected by a revolutionary new heat shield, the spacecraft will fly past Venus in October, setting up its first solar encounter in November. It will make 24 close approaches over the next seven years.

The heat shield on the Parker solar probe is a 4.5-inch thick shield that is made of carbon composite materials. With carbon-carbon sides and carbon foam in the center, the heat shield is a very light component that can withstand radiation and heat equivalent to about 500 times the sun's heat and radiation on felt on Earth.

At Cape Canaveral Air Force Station’s Space Launch Complex 37, the United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy rocket with NASA’s Parker solar probe lifts off.
At Cape Canaveral Air Force Station’s Space Launch Complex 37, the United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy rocket with NASA’s Parker solar probe lifts off.
(Photo Courtesy: NASA)
This heat shield is powerful enough to keep the spacecraft at a comfortable 29°C in temperatures as high as 1,370°C.

Over the next two months, the probe will fly towards Venus, performing its first manoeuvre around Venus. It whips the spacecraft around the planet, using Venus’s gravity to shorten the spacecraft's orbit closer to the Sun. This flyby will place the solar probe in position in early November to fly as close as 15 million miles from the sun, within the blazing solar atmosphere, known as the corona – closer than any man-made object has ever gone.

The United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy rocket launches NASA’s Parker solar probe.
The United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy rocket launches NASA’s Parker solar probe.
(Photo Courtesy: NASA)

This is a seven-year mission. During the mission, the solar probe will make a total of seven Venus flyby's and will pass by the sun 24 times, moving closer to the sun till it reaches its closest approach at 3.8 million miles.

It uses solar array wings to keep the panel's power levels and temperature from fluctuating, while a cooling system will protect its solar arrays from burning, with the constant movement around the sun.

The solar probe also uses high-gain antennae to allow a more precise targeting of radio signals.

The Parker solar probe carries four instrument suites designed to study magnetic fields, plasma and energetic particles, and capture images of the solar wind.

It is expected to reach the sun’s atmosphere somewhere in 2024.

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