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Nasa space probe will aim to ‘touch’ sun

11 August 2018

When it arrives by the Sun, travelling at a speed of 430,000mph, it will orbit the star 24 times. This will be the first time that a satellite will be so close to the sun. The spacecraft will travel directly into the Sun's atmosphere, about 4 million miles from its surface.

When the Parker Solar Probe blasts off from Cape Canaveral, Florida on August 11, it will become the first spacecraft ever to fly through the Sun's scorching atmosphere, known as the corona.

Scientists expect the $1.5 billion mission to shed light not only on our own dynamic sun, but the billions of other yellow dwarf stars - and other types of stars - out there in the Milky Way and beyond.

Scientists want to examine the sun as the world has become ever more dependent on technology both in orbit and on our planet's surface that is vulnerable to solar activity.

"It's of fundamental importance for us to be able to predict space weather much the way we predict weather on Earth", explained Alex Young, a solar scientist at NASA.

Parker Solar Probe will perform its scientific investigations in a hazardous region of intense heat and solar radiation.

It's created to take solar punishment like never before, thanks to its revolutionary heat shield that's capable of withstanding 2,500 degrees Fahrenheit.

Flying into the outermost part of the Sun's atmosphere, known as the corona, for the first time, Parker Solar Probe will employ a combination of in situ measurements and imaging to revolutionize our understanding of the corona and expand our knowledge of the origin and evolution of the solar wind.

The project was proposed in 1958 to a brand-new NASA, and "60 years later, and it's becoming a reality", said project manager Andy Driesman, also of Johns Hopkins, which designed and built the spacecraft.

The Living With a Star flight program is managed by the agency's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington. Helios 2 got within 27 million miles (43 million kilometers) of the sun in 1976.

"You know something exciting is just around the bend, but where you're sitting you can't see what that is", Fox said.

The corona is a "very odd, unfamiliar environment for us".

At the point where the spacecraft will be found to make the required observations, temperatures of approximately 2,500 degrees Fahrenheit (1,370 degrees Celsius) are developing.

The Parker probe's final three orbits - in 2024 and 2025 - will be the closest. The spacecraft is protected by a heat shield that will keep it close to room temperature, about 29 degrees Celsius.

"It's a pretty tough shield", said Fox.

Nasa space probe will aim to ‘touch’ sun