NASA launch date: Parker Solar Probe primed for August trip to the sun | Science | News

The space probe will blast off towards the heart of the solar system no earlier than on Saturday, August 4.

The ambitious NASA launch was initially pencilled in for Thursday, July 31, but was pushed back by a week.

NASA is now positive the probe will launch by August 19 at the latest.

Ahead of the launch, NASA fitted the Parker Solar Probe with cutting-edge heat shield panels which will protect the spacecraft from the sun’s scorching temperatures.

On its trip to the burning star, the probe will reach within four million miles of the sun’s surface.

The heat shields, dubbed the Thermal Protection System (TPS), will keep the probe’s instruments from boiling at 1,371 C (2,500 degrees Fahrenheit).

NASA said in a press release: “The heat shield is made of two panels of superheated carbon-carbon composite sandwiching a lightweight 4.5-inch-thick carbon foam core.

“The Sun-facing side of the heat shield is also sprayed with a specially formulated white coating to reflect as much of the Sun’s energy away from the spacecraft as possible.

“The heat shield itself weighs only about 160 pounds — here on Earth, the foam core is 97 percent air.”

The Parker Solar Probe will barrel towards the sun at speeds of 430,000mph or roughly the equivalent of travelling from London to Lincoln in just one second.

Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA Science Mission Directorate, said: “This probe will journey to a region humanity has never explored before.

“This mission will answer questions scientists have sought to uncover for more than six decades.”

Once the probe reaches the sun, it will study the star’s magnetic field for plasma and ejected particles.

The space agency hopes to learn more about the sun and how the star sustains life in our system.

Parker Solar Probe scientist Nicola Fox said the probe is the “fastest, hottest and coolest” mission under the sun.

Earlier this year, NASA offered astronomy enthusiasts the possibility of having their name delivered to the sun onboard the space probe.

NASA’s “Hot Ticket” to the sun gave access to a special microchip containing thousands of names of lucky participants who signed up online before April, 2018.

Star Trek legend William Shatner joined NASA on the venture and encouraged ambitious stargazers to sign for the mission.

The actor said: “Want to join NASA for a historic mission of discovery?

“The first ever spacecraft to the sun, NASA’s Parker Solar Probe, will launch this year on an orbit to course through the heat of our star’s corona where temperatures are greater than one million degrees.

“The spacecraft will also carry my name to the sun, and your name and the names of everyone who wants to join this voyage of extreme exploration.”

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