After technical delay, Nasa to try again launching Sun probe

Cristina Cross
August 12, 2018

The Parker Solar Probe was set to launch from Cape Canaveral, Florida on Saturday, but last-minute investigations have delayed it for 24 hours.

With one minute and 55 seconds left on the countdown timer, a launch controller ordered "Hold, hold, hold" when a pressure alarm sounded, showing that there was a fault with the Delta IV Heavy rocket's helium system.

Thousands of spectators gathered in the middle of the night to witness the launch, including the University of Chicago astrophysicist for whom the spacecraft is named.

The probe is meant to plunge into the Sun's mysterious atmosphere, known as the corona, coming within 6.16 million kilometres of its surface during a seven-year mission.

At Parker Solar Probe's closest approach to the Sun, temperatures on the heat shield will reach almost 1,371 degrees Celsius, but the spacecraft and its instruments will be kept at a relatively comfortable temperature of about 29.4 degrees Celsius. The current close-to-the-sun champ, NASA's former Helios 2, got within 27 million miles (43 million kilometers) in 1976.

In addition, physicists don't know what's driving the solar wind, the supersonic stream of charged particles constantly blasting away from the sun.

"Today, this is finally possible with cutting-edge thermal engineering advances that can protect the mission on its risky journey".

"The Parker Solar Probe will help us do a much better job of predicting when a disturbance in the solar wind could hit Earth", said Justin Kasper, a project scientist and professor at the University of MI.

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Image: The probe has been fitted with material to help it withstand extreme heats.

"We'll also be the fastest human-made object ever, travelling around the Sun at speeds of up to 690,000km/h (430,000mph) - NY to Tokyo in under a minute!" she told BBC News.

The car-sized probe is created to give scientists a better understanding of solar wind and geomagnetic storms that risk wreaking chaos on Earth by knocking out the power grid.

Nasa has put the brakes on the launch of a probe that will be launched towards the sun. At those speeds, it will reach the sun by November and should beam data back by the end of the year.

"And it needs to be, because it takes an huge amount of energy to get to our final orbit around the Sun", Driesman added.

The mission is aimed primarily at understanding how this solar wind gets accelerated out into space.

If scientists understand more about solar activity, they could use it to predict large solar eruptions that pose a threat to satellites orbiting the Earth. The outreaching corona is hundreds of times hotter than the sun's actual surface, confounding scientists.

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