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.