A NASA spacecraft is currently being prepared to fulfill the space agency’s longtime dream – to “touch” the Sun.
The U.S. space agency has invited the public and media to view the NASA spacecraft that will soon help scientists better understand the Sun. The Parker Solar Probe is scheduled to be launched on August 4th in a first-time mission to touch the Sun and explore its outer atmosphere.
The probe was initially called Solar Probe Plus. However, it was changed last May to Parker Solar Probe in honor of the astrophysicist Eugene Parker.
The spacecraft will be protected by a Thermal Protection System, a cutting-edge heat shield that was installed on June 27th. The mission will take the small car-sized probe within 4 million miles of the sun, a region of space that has never been explored by any human-made spacecraft before. The distance will reportedly expose the probe to extremely high levels of heat and radiation.
“The eight-foot-diameter heat shield will safeguard everything within its umbra, the shadow it casts on the spacecraft,” NASA said.
“At Parker Solar Probe’s closest approach to the Sun, temperatures on the heat shield will reach nearly 2,500 degrees Fahrenheit, but the spacecraft and its instruments will be kept at a relatively comfortable temperature of about 85 degrees Fahrenheit.”
The heat shield is reportedly made of “two panels of superheated carbon-carbon composite sandwiching a lightweight 4.5-inch-thick carbon foam core.” It also has “a specially formulated white coating to reflect as much of the Sun’s energy away from the spacecraft as possible.”
The Thermal Protection System is expected to protect the probe’s core from being exposed to temperatures as high as 2,500 degrees Fahrenheit. Should the shield perform as planned, the NASA spacecraft would be able to remain at a temperature of 85 degrees Fahrenheit.
If the mission succeeds, the space agency is hoping to use the data that will be gathered by the spacecraft to improve its future forecasts of space weather events. These include occurrences that affect not just our planet, but the satellites, astronauts, and space stations as well.