NASA Launched $1.5 Billion Parker Solar Probe To ‘Touch The Sun,’ Fastest Spacecraft Ever (Video)
After a few delays and technical glitches, NASA launched the Parker Solar Probe with a mission to “touch the sun.” The $1.5 billion spacecraft will be the fastest-ever human-made object ever with a top speed of 430,000 mph.
The $1.5 billion car-sized Parker Solar Probe was catapulted into space by a ULA Delta IV Heavy rocket at 3:31 a.m. Eastern Sunday morning from Cape Canaveral, Florida.
The launch literally lit up the night sky.
NASA confirms that the solar panels were deployed.
This mission will literally take us to the stars as the probe will soar to the sun. In the first week, the probe will deploy its high-gain antenna, the first part of its electric field antennas, and its magnetometer. Then in early September, the Parker Probe will begin testing out all of the instruments to be sure its ready for the dangerous journey to the sun.
By October, the spacecraft will orbit Venus seven times to utilize the planet’s gravity to slingshot itself to the sun. Then in November, the probe will approach the star’s corona, which is the solar atmosphere that extends 15 million miles from the sun.
If all goes as planned we should start receiving data in December. The probe’s mission will have it orbit the sun 24 times over six years. NASA expects the probe to venture as close as 3.83 million miles from the sun’s fiery surface. This is seven times closer than the previous closest spacecraft, Helios 2, which came within 27 million miles of the sun in 1976.
Despite being 15 million miles from the sun, the temperatures of the corona can be as extreme as millions of degrees, plus there is devastating radiation levels. But the probe won’t hit those kinds of temperatures.
“Think of putting your oven on and you set it at 400 degrees, and you can put your hand inside your oven and you won’t get burned unless you actually touch a surface,” explained Parker Solar Probe project scientist Nicola Fox, a solar scientist at Johns Hopkins University.
“The corona is very tenuous plasma; it is not a hugely dense area,” Fox said. “So, if you think about the amount of particles that actually are striking the heat shield and depositing that heat in, the whole thing gets heated up to 2,500 degrees Fahrenheit.”
The Parker Probe will defend itself with a special carbon-composite heat shield that is 8-feet in diameter and 4.5-inches thick. But if there is one slight miscalculation, the sun’s inconceivable heat could melt the probe. Here’s how the space probe won’t melt.
“A daring mission to shed light on the mysteries of our closest star,” NASA’s ground control said during the launch. The mission hopes to unlock some of the biggest mysteries of our star and gain knowledge of how the sun works including the corona, solar energy particles, solar flares, and solar winds. The research could help scientists understand and predict how space weather events impact the Earth.
The original name of the probe was the Solar Probe Plus spacecraft, but they renamed it to the Parker Solar Probe in honor of Eugene Parker, an esteemed astrophysicist who predicted the existence of solar winds almost 60 years ago. Parker, who is nearly 91-years-old, said the spacecraft is “ready to do battle with the solar elements.”
“All I can say is ‘Wow, here we go, we’re in for some learning over the next several years’,” Parker said of the launch. “It’s a whole new phase and it’s gonna be fascinating throughout…and we’re just waiting for the data now so the experts can get busy because there’s a lot of data will be coming in.”