Nasa’s Parker Solar Probe - humanity’s first mission to the Sun - is undergoing final preparations for its launch scheduled for 31 July. The spacecraft was flown by the US Air Force to Florida, where it will continue testing, and eventually undergo final assembly and mating to the third stage of the Delta IV Heavy launch vehicle.
Parker Solar Probe is humanity’s first mission to the Sun. After launch, it will orbit directly through the solar atmosphere - the corona - closer to the surface than any human-made object has ever gone. While facing brutal heat and radiation, the mission will reveal fundamental science behind what drives the solar wind, the constant outpouring of material from the Sun that shapes planetary atmospheres and affects space weather near Earth.
For the next several months, the spacecraft will undergo comprehensive testing. Just prior to being fuelled, one of the most critical elements of the spacecraft, the thermal protection system (TPS), or heat shield, will be installed. The TPS is the breakthrough technology that will allow Parker Solar Probe to survive the temperatures in the Sun’s corona, just 9.8 million kilometres from the surface of our star.
“There are many milestones to come for Parker Solar Probe and the amazing team of men and women who have worked so diligently to make this mission a reality,” said Andy Driesman, Parker Solar Probe project manager from the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory in the US.
“The installation of the TPS will be our final major step before encapsulation and integration onto the launch vehicle,” said Driesman. Parker Solar Probe will be launched from Nasa’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
We're sending a spacecraft to "touch" the Sun and you can send your name along with it! Submit your name for a journey to our closest star with our Parker #SolarProbe this summer. Details on how to add your name to the microchip: https://t.co/D5wI9iP4o5 pic.twitter.com/INtegqZY13— NASA (@NASA) April 8, 2018
Throughout its seven-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.