NASA's Parker Solar Probe, mankind's first mission to 'touch' the Sun, has been moved to its launch pad and is on schedule take off next week, the US space agency said. On Monday, August 6, a United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy will thunder to space carrying the car-sized spacecraft, which will study the Sun closer than any human-made object ever has.
The car-sized spacecraft will travel directly into the Sun's atmosphere, about four million miles from its surface - and more than seven times closer than any spacecraft has come before, thanks to its innovative Thermal Protection System.
The mission will perform the closest-ever observations of a star when it travels through the Sun's outer atmosphere, called the corona.
"We've been studying the Sun for decades, and now we're finally going to go where the action is," said Alex Young, associate director for science in the Heliophysics Science Division at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.
Young, along with Nicky Fox of Parker Solar Probe's project scientist at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Lab in Laurel, Maryland, had introduced Parker Solar Probe's science goals and the technology behind them at a televised press conference from NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida on July 20.
The experts said that the probe will rely on measurements and imaging to revolutionise our understanding of the corona and how processes there ultimately affect near-Earth space.
The probe was moved on July 30 to Space the Launch Complex 37 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.
The following day, the spacecraft was lifted and attached to its launch vehicle, a United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy rocket in the Vertical Integration Facility.
The Parker Solar Probe carries a lineup of instruments to study the Sun both remotely and in situ, or directly. Together, the data from these instruments should help scientists answer three foundational questions about our star.
A Sun-skimming mission like Parker Solar Probe has been a dream of scientists for decades, but only recently has the needed technology - like the heat shield, solar array cooling system, and fault management system - been available to make such a mission a reality.
Parker Solar Probe will explore the corona, a region of the Sun only seen from Earth when the Moon blocks out the Sun's bright face during total solar eclipses.
The corona holds the answers to many of scientists' outstanding questions about the Sun's activity and processes.
Watch: Parker Solar Probe--Mission Overview
(With inputs from PTI, NASA)