Published: Sun, August 12, 2018
Science | By

NASA shifts launch of spacecraft to the Sun

NASA shifts launch of spacecraft to the Sun

The probe is created to plunge into the Sun's mysterious atmosphere, known as the corona, coming within 3.83 million miles (6.16 million kilometers) of its surface during a seven-year mission. That's about 95 percent of the way to the surface from Earth and is within the outer atmosphere known as the corona.

Saturday's delay was caused by a helium gas sensor that exceeded a launch limit on the Delta IV-Heavy rocket, United Launch Alliance (ULA) said.

"The team received a gaseous helium red pressure alarm that kicked them out", Mic Woltman of NASA's Launch Services Program said during live NASA TV commentary following the launch scrub. The next launch window opens tomorrow morning. But four minutes before that, NASA announced a "no-go" as the probe team investigated an issue. As a result, the mission missed its planned launch window.

With just one minute, 55 seconds remaining for NASA's Parker Solar Probe to lift off, the launch controller shouted, "Hold, hold, hold".

The new target launch time is 3:31 a.m. Sunday.

The probe's main goal is to unveil the secrets of the corona, the unusual atmosphere around Sun.

A $1.5 billion Parker Solar Probe mission will fly through the sun's outer atmosphere within 6.4 million km of the very big hot star repeatedly, gathering key insights about solar structure, activity, atmosphere, solar winds and other features.

The probe will make at least 24 passes around the sun, with gravity assists from Venus for seven of them, and continue going after that as long as it has propellant.

At Parker Solar Probe's closest approach to the Sun, temperatures on the heat shield will reach almost 1,371 degrees Celsius, but the spacecraft and its instruments will be kept at a relatively comfortable temperature of about 29.4 degrees Celsius.

The probe is set to use seven Venus flybys over almost seven years to gradually reduce its orbit around the Sun, using instruments created to image the solar wind and study electric and magnetic fields, coronal plasma and energetic particles.

Scientists have wanted to build a spacecraft like this for more than 60 years, but only in recent years did the heat shield technology advance enough to be capable of protecting sensitive instruments, according to Fox.

The spacecraft's path to the sun runs past Venus. The names were uploaded to a memory drive that is being carried by the probe.

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