NASA’s Parker Solar Probe Gets ‘Revolutionary’ Heat Shield

NASA's Parker Solar Probe Gets 'Revolutionary' Heat Shield

856

Ahead of its August launch, NASA’s Parker Solar Probe, aiming to get the closest ever to the sun, has got its “revolutionary” heat shield permanently attached to the spacecraft. The shield will help the spacecraft remain safe as it collects data about the inner workings of the corona. At the end of June, engineers installed the protective shield on the craft, dubbed the Parker Solar Probe.

The heat shield will keep the probe relatively cool as it encounters blistering temperatures near our Solar System’s star. The Parker Solar Probe is meant to get closer to the Sun than any vehicle before it. The probe will sit just 4 million miles away from the Sun’s surface, where it will interact with the solar corona, or outer atmosphere. Every so often, particles within the corona get superheated and shoot out from the Sun in what’s known as solar wind.

The probe’s heat shield – called the Thermal Protection System, or TPS – was reinstalled on the spacecraft on June 27. The reinstallation of the heat shield – which was briefly attached to the spacecraft during testing in the autumn of 2017 – marks the first time in months that Parker Solar Probe has been fully integrated.

The shield, with a diameter of 2.4 metres, protects instruments within its umbra, the shadow it casts on the spacecraft. At Parker Solar Probe’s closest approach to the sun, temperatures on the heat shield will reach nearly 1,371 degrees Celsius, but the spacecraft and its instruments will be kept at a temperature of about 30 degrees Celsius.

The heat shield is made of two panels of superheated carbon composite sandwiching a lightweight 11.5 cm thick carbon foam core. The sun-facing side of the shield is also sprayed with a specially formulated white coating to reflect as much of the sun’s energy away from the spacecraft.

A mission 60 years in the making, Parker Solar Probe will make a historic journey to the Sun’s corona, a region of the solar atmosphere. With the shield’s installation, the Parker Solar Probe is nearly ready for launch. The spacecraft is slated to launch on top of a Delta IV Heavy rocket, made by the United Launch Alliance, out of Cape Canaveral, Florida as early as August 4th.