NASA's Parker Solar Probe Launched
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NASA's Parker Solar Probe Launched

By IndraStra Global News Team

Image Attribute: The launch of Parker Solar Probe (PSP), Dated: August 12, 2018, 3:31 a.m. (EDT), Space Launch Complex-37, Cape Canaveral Air Force Station (Florida) / Source: NASA

Image Attribute: The launch of Parker Solar Probe (PSP), Dated: August 12, 2018, 3:31 a.m. (EDT), Space Launch Complex-37, Cape Canaveral Air Force Station (Florida) / Source: NASA

On August 12, 2018, NASA’s Parker Solar Probe (PSP) launched at 3:31 a.m. (EDT) on a United Launch Alliance (ULA)'s Delta IV Heavy rocket from Space Launch Complex-37, Cape Canaveral Air Force Station (Florida). The probe was originally scheduled to launch in 2015 on an Atlas V 551 with Star-48GXV upper stage combination. In July 2014, the development of the Star-48GXV upper stage was halted as the development risk was deemed to be too high. This required a switch to a larger launch vehicle. In March 2015 the Delta IV Heavy with an additional Star-48BV upper stage was selected as the launch vehicle for this mission.

At 5:33 a.m. (EDT), the mission operations manager reported that the spacecraft was healthy and operating normally. The mission is named after Dr. Eugene Parker, the physicist who first theorized the existence of the solar wind in 1958. Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory designed and built the spacecraft. It’s the first NASA mission to be named for a living researcher.

According to NASA's press release - "The spacecraft will transmit its first science observations in December 2018, beginning a revolution in our understanding of the star that makes life on Earth possible."

Over the next two months, PSP will fly towards Venus, performing its first Venus gravity assist in early October – a maneuver a bit like a handbrake turn – that whips the spacecraft around the planet, using Venus’s gravity to trim the spacecraft’s orbit tighter around the Sun. This first flyby will place Parker Solar Probe in position in early November to fly as close as 15 million miles from the Sun – within the blazing solar atmosphere, known as the corona – "closer than anything made by humanity has ever gone before."

"Throughout its seven-year mission, PSP will make six more Venus flybys and 24 total passes by the Sun, journeying steadily closer to the Sun until it makes its closest approach at 3.8 million miles. At this point, the probe will be moving at roughly 430,000 miles per hour, setting the record for the fastest-moving object made by humanity."

Image Attrubute: Artist's illustration of NASA's Parker Solar Probe approaching the sun/ Credit: Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory

Image Attribute: Artist's illustration of NASA's Parker Solar Probe approaching the sun/ Source: Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory

At closest approach, PSP would zip past the sun at 201 km/s, protected by a carbon-composite heat shield that must withstand up to 1430 degrees Celsius and survive blasts of radiation and energized dust at levels not experienced by any previous spacecraft. 

"PSP will set its sights on the corona to solve long-standing, foundational mysteries of our Sun. What is the secret of the scorching corona, which is more than 300 times hotter than the Sun’s surface, thousands of miles below? What drives the supersonic solar wind – the constant stream of solar material that blows through the entire solar system? And finally, what accelerates solar energetic particles, which can reach speeds up to more than half the speed of light as they rocket away from the Sun?"

Video Attribute: Physicist Dr. Eugene Parker watches the launch of the spacecraft that bears his name — NASA’s Parker Solar Probe — early in the morning of Aug. 12, 2018, / Credits: NASA/JHUAPL

PSP carries various instrument suites designed to study magnetic fields, plasma, and energetic particles, and capture images of the solar wind which are as follows;
  • Electromagnetic Fields Investigation (FIELDS) — This investigation will make direct measurements of electric and magnetic fields, radio waves, Poynting flux, absolute plasma density, and electron temperature. The experiment will also serve as a giant dust detector, registering voltage signatures when specks of space dust hit the spacecraft's antenna. It is comprised of 2 flux-gate magnetometers (MAG), a search-coil magnetometer (SCM), and 5 plasma voltage sensors. The Principal investigator is Dr. Stuart Bale, at the University of California, Berkeley.
  • Solar Wind Electrons Alphas and Protons (SWEAP) — This investigation will count the electrons, protons and helium ions, and measure their properties such as velocity, density, and temperature. Its main instruments are two electrostatic analyzers (SPAN-A and SPAN-B) and a Faraday cup (SPC). The Principal Investigator is Dr. Justin C. Kasper at the University of Michigan and the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.