NASA set to blast off first spacecraft to explore Sun


NASA is set to blast off the first spacecraft to explore Sun on Sunday. The NASA spacecraft will be on a mission to plunge into the sun’s sizzling atmosphere and unlock the mysteries of the centre of the solar system.

NASA’s car-sized, 1.5 billion US dollar Parker Solar Probe is scheduled to launch on a Delta IV Heavy rocket from Cape Canaveral, Florida during a 65-minute launch window that opens at 3:33 am local time.

By coming closer to the Sun than any spacecraft in history, the unmanned probe’s main goal is to unveil the secrets of the corona, the unusual atmosphere around the Sun.

Not only is the corona about 300 times hotter than the Sun’s surface, but it also hurls powerful plasma and energetic particles that can unleash geomagnetic space storms, wreaking havoc on Earth by disrupting the power grid.

But these solar outbursts are poorly understood. The probe is protected by an ultra-powerful heat shield that is just 11.43 centimeters thick. When it nears the Sun, the probe will travel rapidly enough to go from New York to Tokyo in one minute — some 430,000 miles per hour, making it the fastest human-made object.

The probe is protected by an ultra-powerful heat shield that is 4.5 inches (11.43 centimeters) thick. The shield should enable the spacecraft to survive its close shave with the fiery star, coming within 3.83 million miles (6.16 million kilometers) of the Sun’s surface.

The heat shield is built to withstand radiation equivalent to up to about 500 times the Sun’s radiation on Earth. Even in a region where temperatures can reach more than a million degrees Fahrenheit, the sunlight is expected to heat the shield to just around 2,500 degrees Fahrenheit (1,371 degrees Celsius).

If all works as planned, the inside of the spacecraft should stay at just 85 degrees Fahrenheit. “The sun is full of mysteries,” said Nicky Fox, project scientist at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Lab.