Reaching for a star – NASA probe to touch the Sun lifts off

Cape Canaveral – NASA’s Parker Solar Probe mission to kiss the Sun lifted off from Cape Canaveral Air Force base without a hitch.

The Parker probe will fly faster than any manmade object ever and enter the hottest region of the Sun known as the corona. It will reach speeds of 430,000 miles per hour.

The corona is a region of intense heat and solar radiation that’s generally visible during a solar eclipse, NASA said.

“The mission will be the first to fly directly through the Sun’s corona – the hazardous region of intense heat and solar radiation in the Sun’s atmosphere that is visible during an eclipse.

“It will gather data that could help answer questions about solar physics that have puzzled scientists for decades.

“Gathering information about fundamental processes near the Sun can help improve our understanding of how our solar system’s star changes the space environment, where space weather can affect astronauts, interfere with satellite orbits, or damage spacecraft electronics,”NASA said after the probe lifted off.”

“Parker Solar Probe will provide unprecedented observations of what drives the wide range of particles, energy and heat that course through the region — flinging particles outward into the solar system and far past Neptune.

Hot Corona

“Inside the corona, it’s also, of course, unimaginably hot. The spacecraft will travel through material with temperatures greater than a million degrees Fahrenheit while being bombarded with intense sun light.

“So, why won’t it melt?”

“Parker Solar Probe has been designed to withstand the extreme conditions and temperature fluctuations for the mission.

“The key lies in its custom heat shield and an autonomous system that helps protect the mission from the Sun’s intense light emission, but does allow the coronal material to “touch” the spacecraft.”

Hyper-speed of 430,000 mph

“Zooming through space in a highly elliptical orbit, Parker Solar Probe will reach speeds up to 430,000 miles per hour — fast enough to get from Philadelphia to Washington, D.C., in a second — setting the record for the fastest spacecraft in history.

“During its nominal mission lifetime of just under 7 years, Parker Solar Probe will complete 24 orbits of the Sun — reaching within 3.8 million miles of the Sun’s surface at closest approach.”

But getting so close to the Sun requires slowing down — for which Parker will use the gravity of our neighbor planet, Venus, according to NASA.

“Parker Solar Probe uses Venus to adjust its course and slow down in order to put the spacecraft on the best trajectory,” an official explained.

“We will fly by Venus seven times throughout the mission. Each time we fly by we get closer and closer to the Sun,” he said.

In an orbit this close to the Sun, the real challenge is to keep the spacecraft from burning up.

Parker probe
Photo credit: The United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy rocket lifts off from Space Launch Complex 37 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station at 3:31 a.m. EDT, carrying NASA’s Parker Solar Probe. Photo credit: NASA

“Booster ignition and liftoff of the United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy rocket at 3:31 a.m. EDT, from Space Launch Complex 37 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, carrying NASA’s Parker Solar Probe,” NASA announced as the space craft lifted off.

Within a few minutes of launch the spacecraft, booster rockets had separated and the probe’s solar array deployed to provide energy for the long flight.