NASA confirms humanity’s first flight to the Sun in July 2018

NASA’s Parker Solar Probe, which is humanity’s first ever mission to the Sun, is in the final stages of its preparations for its launch in July 2018. Parker Solar Probe is scheduled to be launched from the Launch Complex-37 at NASA’s Kennedy Space Centre in Florida. The two-hour launch window will open for the first time on July 31 at 4 a.m and will be repeated each day through August 19, at slightly earlier times, said the US space agency.

After the launch, NASA’s Parker Solar Probe will orbit directly through the solar atmosphere, known as the corona, closer to its surface than any human-made object has ever been. While facing brutal heat and radiation, the space agency’s next mission will reportedly reveal the fundamental science behind what exactly drives the solar wind, which is the constant outpouring of material coming from the Sun that shapes planetary atmospheres as well as affects space weather near our planet Earth.

Also see: NASA’s Parker Solar Probe mission: Here’s how you can send your name to travel to the Sun

At the Astrotech Space Operations in Florida, NASA’s Parker Solar Probe will continue testing before eventually undergoing final assembly and mating to the third stage of ‘Delta IV’ Heavy launch vehicle. “This is the second most important flight Parker Solar Probe will make, and we’re excited to be safely in Florida and continuing pre-launch work on the spacecraft,” said Andy Driesman, who is the project manager of Parker Solar Probe from the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory in Maryland.

In the next several months, the spacecraft will undergo regular comprehensive testing and just prior to being fueled, the thermal protection system (TPS) or heat shield, which is one of the most critical elements of the spacecraft, will be installed. The TPS is the breakthrough technology which will allow Parker Solar Probe to survive in the temperatures in the Sun’s corona, which is just 3.8 million miles from the surface of our star.

The spacecraft is outfitted with a 4.5-inch-thick (11.4 cms) carbon-composite shield which will protect it from any radiation levels that are 475 times higher as compared to what we experience on Earth as well as temperatures which reach 2,500 degrees Fahrenheit or 1,370 degrees Celsius.

“There are many milestones to come for Parker Solar Probe and the amazing team of men and women who have worked so diligently to make this mission a reality,” Andy Driesman said. “The installation of the TPS will be our final major step before encapsulation and integration onto the launch vehicle.”

Throughout its seven-year mission, NASA’s Parker Solar Probe will explore the Sun’s outer atmosphere while making critical observations to answer some decades-old questions about the physics of stars. The data collected from the mission will also be useful in improving forecasts related to major eruptions on the Sun and subsequent space weather events which impact technology on Earth, satellites, and astronauts in space.
If all goes well, the Probe will perform exactly 24 close flybys of the Sun over the course of next seven years, and will even get within just 3.9 million miles (6.2 million kms) of the solar surface, at times.

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