Space Missions Current Affairs

Parker Solar Probe: NASA to launch Humanity’s first flight to Sun in July 2018

NASA’s will launch humanity’s first mission Parker Solar Probe (PSP) to the Sun in July 31, 2018. It is undergoing final preparations for its scheduled launch on board of NASA’s Delta IV Heavy launch vehicle from Kennedy Space Centre in Florida. After its launch, the probe will orbit directly through solar atmosphere — the corona — closer to surface than any human-made object has ever gone.

Parker Solar Probe mission

It is NASA’s first planned robotic spacecraft to study outer corona of Sun. It has been designed and built by Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory. It is named after solar astrophysicist Eugene Parker, first spacecraft of NASA to be named after living person.

The spacecraft is designed to endure harsh environment near Sun, by approaching within 8.5 solar radii (5.9 million kilometers) to ‘surface’ (photosphere) of Sun where incident solar intensity is approximately 520 times intensity at Earth orbit.

The probe will be fitted with thermal protection system (TPS) or heat shield made of reinforced carbon-carbon composite that will allow it to survive temperatures in Sun’s corona. It main systems and scientific instruments are located in central portion of shield’s shadow, where direct radiation from Sun is fully blocked.

The primary power for mission is dual system of solar panels (photovoltaic array). Secondary source consists of much smaller secondary array power that uses pumped-fluid cooling to maintain operating temperature.

Scientific goals of PSP

  • Determine structure and dynamics of magnetic fields at sources of solar wind.
  • Trace flow of energy that heats corona and accelerates solar wind.
  • Determine what mechanisms accelerate and transport energetic particles.
  • Explore dusty plasma near Sun and its influence on solar wind and energetic particle formation.

In its seven-year mission, PSP will explore Sun’s outer atmosphere and make critical observations to answer questions about physics of stars. Its data will also be useful in improving forecasts of major eruptions on Sun and subsequent space weather events that impact technology on Earth, as well as satellites and astronauts in space.

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NASA’s Juno spacecraft completes fourth flyby of Jupiter

NASA’s solar-powered Juno spacecraft completed closest flyby of Jupiter mysterious cloud tops for the fourth time. All eight of Juno’s science instruments were switched on during the flyby.

During its closest approach it was roughly 4,300 km above Jupiter’s cloud tops and travelled at a speed of about 208,000 kmph. Currently, Juno is locked in a 53-day orbit around Jupiter.

It is expected to perform three dozen flybys over the next one and a half years. During its flybys, Juno probes beneath the cloud cover of Jupiter and studies Jupiter’s auroras to learn more about its origins, structure, atmosphere and magnetosphere

About Juno spacecraft

  • Juno was launched in August 2011 to study Jupiter’s composition and evolution. It’s the first solar power spacecraft to orbit Jupiter and second after Galileo.
  • The unmanned spacecraft had successfully entered Jupiter’s orbit in July 2016 after a five year journey and traversing distance of nearly 2 billion miles.
  • The primary goals of the mission are to find out whether Jupiter has a solid core, how its atmosphere and magnetosphere formed, and whether there is water in the gas cloud shrouding the planet.
  • The information gathered from it will provide vital clues to how the planet formed and evolved, but also to how the solar system we live in came into existence.
  • The spacecraft has been named after the Roman goddess Juno, the wife of Jupiter who is considered as the god of the sky in ancient Greco-Roman mythology.

For more information: Juno Spacecraft

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