In less than a week, the Parker Solar Probe will soar to the skies and embark on its historic journey to the sun.
Its travels will carry it closer to our biggest star than any other spacecraft has ever been, becoming the first man-made vehicle to go through the solar corona — the incandescent outer atmosphere surrounding the sun.
Initially scheduled to launch tomorrow, the solar probe will be taking off “no earlier than August 11,” NASA recently announced in a blog post. The launch window opens in the early hours of Saturday’s morning, at 3:45 a.m. EDT (07:48 GMT), and will last for 45 minutes.
This is one of the most daring missions that the space agency has ever envisioned and its success requires a speedy launch, notes Space.com. Which is why the Parker spacecraft will be riding off into space atop a United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy rocket, the world’s second most powerful rocket, after SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy.
According to Space.com, the Delta IV Heavy is capable of fairing a payload of 30,440 pounds (13,810 kilograms) to geostationary transfer orbit, and even twice as much to low Earth orbit. The car-sized Parker Solar Probe only weighs about 1,000 pounds (450 kilograms), but relies on the massive United Launch Alliance rocket to carry it swiftly into space.
The solar probe is already prepped for the flight, reveals a new NASA photo that shows the spacecraft snugged inside its fairing atop the Delta IV Heavy rocket.
“Ever wonder what a spacecraft looks like tucked inside its protective capsule atop a rocket? Behold, NASA’s Parker Solar Probe inside one half of its 62.7-foot tall fairing, ready to launch on August 11 to touch the Sun,” NASA wrote on Twitter on August 1.
Ever wonder what a spacecraft looks like tucked inside its protective capsule atop a rocket? Behold, @NASASun’s Parker #SolarProbe inside one half of its 62.7-foot tall fairing, ready to launch on Aug. 11 to touch the Sun: https://t.co/t10cYjbGEy pic.twitter.com/6wuMIQ1Qyu— NASA (@NASA) August 1, 2018
The mission will take off from Space Launch Complex 37 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. At first, the solar probe will make a quick stop around Venus on October 2, for a gravity-assist maneuver that will help it adjust its course toward the sun.
How To ‘Touch’ The Sun And Not Get Fried
Their first close encounter is slated for November 5, when the Parker spacecraft will begin its approach to the sun. Over the next seven years, the probe will be performing 24 flybys of the sun — three of which will take it within 3.8 million miles (6.1 million kilometers) from the sun’s surface.
During its last orbit of the sun, in 2025, the Parker Solar Probe will make history by plunging directly through the solar corona to gather as much data as possible about the sun’s puzzling atmosphere.
As the Inquisitr previously reported, the spacecraft will be protected from the sun’s scorching rays by a state-of-the-art heat shield made out of carbon composite foam encased in carbon plates. This wicked shield will make sure that the probe will remain at a balmy temperature of 85 degrees Fahrenheit (30 degrees Celsius), despite traveling through an inferno of more than a million degrees Fahrenheit.
Looking For Answers To Science’s Most Burning Questions
Next week’s launch comes after a series of small delays that have pushed the takeoff from July 31 to August 4, 6, and ultimately 11. While the launch window was due to close on August 19, NASA has managed to extend it for a few more days, until August 23.
Parker #SolarProbe updates!— NASA Sun & Space (@NASASun) August 2, 2018
✅ Spacecraft mated to 3rd stage
✅ Encapsulation complete
✅ Moved to pad & attached to rocket
???? Plus, we've extended the end of our launch window to Aug. 23.
Keep up with the latest at https://t.co/P1HyH7lYh3 pic.twitter.com/CHIwD9Nt9L
The pioneering Parker mission is setting out to find answers to some of the most ardent questions concerning our understanding on the sun. Among the mysteries it will attempt to unlock is the formation of the solar wind — the charged flow of particles spewing out from the sun and affecting everything in the solar system, Earth included.
This “sizzling” mission aims to reveal the secrets of the corona and figure out why the sun’s atmosphere becomes hotter farther away from its surface. Also on the agenda is an investigation into what triggers the coronal mass ejections, eruptions of scalding, charged material seeping into interplanetary space.
As the Parker Solar Probe carries our hopes to better understand how the sun works, it will also be transporting a memory card containing the names of more than 1.1 million people (William Shatner included), who have volunteered to send their names to the sun, the Inquisitr reported in May.