Published: Mon, August 13, 2018
Sci-tech | By Jackie Newman

'Wow, here we go': NASA spacecraft hurtles toward the sun

'Wow, here we go': NASA spacecraft hurtles toward the sun

The £1.17billion ($1.5billion) mission will study the sun's incredibly hot outer atmosphere, called the corona, as well as the charged particles that flow off the star and into the solar system.

The successful launch followed an aborted take-off on Saturday morning when a last-minute alarm caused it to miss its 65-minute weather window.

"All I can say is, 'Wow, here we go.' We're in for some learning over the next several years", said Dr Parker, who proposed the existence of solar wind - a steady, supersonic stream of particles blasting off the sun - 60 years ago.

The car-sized observatory is created to endure temperatures of up to 2,500 degrees Fahrenheit as it flies within 4 million miles of the sun's surface. The next step after that will be to complete its very first solar swoop in November. Altogether, it will make 24 close approaches over the next seven years.

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.

NASA project manager Andy Driesman said: "We will fly by Venus seven times throughout the mission".

The second attempt on Sunday at 3.31am local time was a success.

This was the 37 launch of the Delta IV rocket, and the 10 in the Heavy configuration.

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Nasa needed the mighty 23-storey rocket, plus a third stage, to get the Parker probe - the size of a small vehicle and well under a ton - racing toward the sun, 93 million miles (150 million kilometres) from Earth.

At some points, it will move to just 3.83 million miles from the star's broiling surface. It is expected to launch in 2020, arriving at its closest position to the Sun towards the end of Parker's planned seven years of operations.

Parker watched the launch at Cape Canaveral, and said it was his first time seeing a rocket blast off in person.

"I really have to turn from biting my nails and getting it launched to thinking about all the interesting things, which I don't know yet, (that) will be made clear, I assume, over the next five or six or seven years", Parker said in a NASA interview.

Yanping Guo, who designed the mission trajectory, said: "The launch energy to reach the Sun is 55 times that required to get to Mars, and two times that needed to get to Pluto".

"I'm in awe", Zurbuchen said.

The Solar Probe Cup, dubbed "the bravest little instrument", is a sensor that will extend beyond the heat shield to "scoop up samples" of the Sun's atmosphere, according to Professor Justin Kasper of the University of MI. The first science data should return sometime in December.

Roughly the size of a small vehicle, PSP will get almost seven times closer to the sun than any previous spacecraft. Each flyby will provide an orbit-shaping gravity boost, drawing it ever closer to the sun and straight into the corona - the sun's outermost atmosphere.

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