Monday, 20 August, 2018

Last-minute technical problem delays NASA's flight to sun

Parker Solar Probe launch delayed until Sunday UPDATE: NASA postpones launch of Parker Solar Probe
Sandra Phillips | 12 August, 2018, 11:09

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.

But if all goes according to plan, the probe will launch at 3:31 a.m. ET Sunday from Cape Canaveral, Florida, on a United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy rocket, one of the world's most powerful rockets. The launch window for the mission now closes on August 23.

A last-minute technical problem Saturday delayed NASA's unprecedented flight to the sun.

Parker said he was "impressed" by the Parker Solar Probe, calling it "a very complex machine".

Once launched, the Parker solar probe may contend with temperatures upwards of 2500 degrees Fahrenheit (1371 C) when it reaches the sun's atmosphere - also known as the corona.

Rocket maker United Launch Alliance said it would try again Sunday, provided the helium-pressure issue can be resolved quickly.

This followed earlier trouble in the countdown.

The last time a man-made object came close to the star's surface was in 1976 when Helios 2 achieved perihelion, the point of the orbit at which it was closest to the sun, at 27 million miles.

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Scientists hope the mission will be able to provide answers as to why the corona is 300 times hotter than the surface of the sun, a phenomenon that Nasa says is in "defiance of all logic" because "its atmosphere gets much, much hotter the farther it stretches from the sun's blazing surface".

The probe will be controlled from the Mission Operations Centre based at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (JHU APL), which is where NASA handles its unmanned missions.

The probe is named after Gene Parker, who in 1958 wrote a paper theorizing the expansion of the solar atmosphere and solar wind.

"Parker Solar Probe uses Venus to adjust its course and slow down in order to put the spacecraft on the best trajectory", said Driesman.

The heat shield is made of a 4.5-inch thick carbon composite foam material between two carbon fibre face sheets. "Each time we fly by we get closer and closer to the Sun", Driesman added.

The project, with a $1.5 billion price tag, is the first major mission under Nasa's Living With a Star program.

It is created to withstand heat of up to 1,000 degrees Celsius, speeds of 700,000 kilometres per hour and a journey that will last seven years.

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