NASA to Launch Humanity’s First Flight to Sun ‘Parker Solar Probe’ in July

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NASA’s Parker Solar Probe spacecraft has arrived in Florida from the Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland to start final preparations for its launch which is scheduled for July 31, 2018.

Parker Solar Probe spacecraft is humanity’s first mission to the Sun and was designed to fly closer to the sun ever before and will be launched from Launch Complex-37 of NASA’s Kennedy Space Centre, Florida. It will orbit directly through the Corona, the Solar atmosphere.

Parker Solar Probe will reveal the basic science behind the solar wind and the continuous outpouring of material from the sun that is shaping planetary atmosphere, while facing the harsh heat and radiation. The spacecraft was renamed from the Solar Probe Plus to the Parker Solar Probe in the honour of astrophysicist Eugene Parker,  professor emeritus at the University of Chicago (first time NASA named a spacecraft for a living individual).

The mission was announced in the year 2009 and this robotic spacecraft was designed and built by the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory. It was originally scheduled to launch in 2015 but later was rescheduled to July 31, 2018. Parker Solar Probe will approach within 8.86 solar radii (6.2 million kilometers) from the surface of the Sun that is the outer corona of the sun. The spacecraft is now at an Astrotech Space Operations processing facility in Titusville, Florida, near the Kennedy Space Center.

For the next few months, the Parker Solar Probe will undergo comprehensive testing; just prior to being fueled, one of the most critical elements of the spacecraft, the thermal protection system (TPS), or heat shield, will be installed as it is the  final major step before encapsulation and integration onto the launch vehicle. The TPS is the breakthrough technology that will allow Parker Solar Probe to survive the temperatures in the Sun’s corona, just 3.8 million miles from the surface of our star.

Throughout its 7-year mission, Parker Solar Probe will explore the Sun’s outer atmosphere and make critical observations to answer decades-old questions about the physics of stars. Its data will also be useful in improving forecasts of major eruptions on the Sun and the subsequent space weather events that impact technology on Earth, as well as satellites and astronauts in space.

NASA is also inviting people around the world to submit their names online to be placed on a microchip aboard NASA’s historic Parker Solar Probe mission. Submissions will be accepted until April 27, 2018.