Published: Sat, August 11, 2018
Sci-tech | By Carrie Guzman

Nasa counts down to launch of first spacecraft to 'touch Sun'

Nasa counts down to launch of first spacecraft to 'touch Sun'

NASA's car-sized, $1.5 billion Parker Solar Probe is scheduled to launch on a Delta IV Heavy rocket from Cape Canaveral, Florida during a 65-minute launch window that opens at 3:33 am (0733 GMT).

It's created to take solar punishment like never before, thanks to its revolutionary heat shield that's capable of withstanding 1,370 degrees Celsius. The spacecraft will make a total of seven orbits around Venus.

Scientists hope to unlock mysteries such as why the sun's corona, the outermost layer of its atmosphere, is hotter than its surface.

The Parker Solar Probe is set to launch Saturday before dawn, and I'll be there to share it with you.

Earth, and all the other objects in the Solar System are constantly plowing through what is known as the solar wind - a constant stream of high-energy particles, mostly protons and electrons, hurled into space by The Sun. During its closest solar approaches, the spacecraft will hurtle through the corona at 690 kilometres an hour, setting a speed record.

"The coolest, hottest mission, baby, that's what it is", said Nicola Fox, the project scientist at Johns Hopkins University. While granting us life, the sun also has the power to disrupt spacecraft in orbit, and communications and electronics on Earth. It's the first time NASA has named a spacecraft after someone who's still alive. The spacecraft is now scheduled to launch tomorrow (Aug. 11) at 3:33 a.m. (0733 GMT).

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In all, the spacecraft will make 24 elongated laps around the Sun, closer than the orbit of Mercury, the innermost planet.

It is a fast-paced mission, with the first Venus encounter occurring less than two months after liftoff, in early October, and the first brush with the Sun in November. But these findings are going to take a long time - first, the Parker probe will have to orbit around the sun, getting closer and closer, for as many as seven years.

The heat shield is built to withstand radiation equivalent up to about 500 times the Sun's radiation here on Earth.

"With each orbit, we'll be seeing new regions of the sun's atmosphere and learning things about stellar mechanics that we've wanted to explore for decades".

The Parker Solar Probe will go closer to the Sun than any spacecraft before it.

This is a phenomenon that has baffled NASA scientists because the sun's atmosphere "gets much, much hotter the farther it stretches from the sun's blazing surface".

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