Parker Solar Probe Survives First Close Encounter With The Sun

The spacecraft called home two days after its first flyby of the sun to let us know it was keeping it cool.

Close-up view of a burning sun in space.
sdecoret / Shutterstock

The spacecraft called home two days after its first flyby of the sun to let us know it was keeping it cool.

NASA’s Parker Solar Probe — mankind’s first mission to “touch” the sun — has made it through its first brush with our blazing star.

According to NASA, the Parker spacecraft is “alive and well” after its first close encounter with the sun on November 5. Also known as a perihelion — the first in a long series yet to come — this first close approach brought the probe within 15 million miles from the sun’s surface.

That’s “far closer than any spacecraft has ever gone,” notes the space agency. Until recently, that record belonged to the Helios 2 mission — which also made history as the fastest spaceship relative to the sun. However, the Parker Solar Probe surpassed the German-American spacecraft on both counts, breaking the double record last week.

As the Inquisitr recently reported, the Parker Solar Probe had slipped out of communication range with Earth in the few days before and after Monday’s flyby due to radio interference from solar emissions. Left without guidance from mission control, the spacecraft pulled off its historic first flyby all by itself — while also keeping a cool head (literally) to protect its instruments from the sun’s intense heat.

Earlier this week, the Parker Solar Probe called home to let us know it was doing well. The spacecraft got back in touch with Earth two days after achieving perihelion, sending a status beacon to deliver the happy news of its success.

The signal came through at 4:46 p.m. EST on November 7 and indicated a “status ‘A’ — the best of all four possible status signals, meaning that Parker Solar Probe is operating well with all instruments running and collecting science data,” NASA announced yesterday.

As the space agency points out, it’s entirely possible that the solar probe did encounter some minor issues while flying so close to the sun. However, if that was indeed the case, the “status A” beacon beamed back by the spacecraft shows that the Parker Solar Probe was able to resolve those problems autonomously.

“Parker Solar Probe was designed to take care of itself and its precious payload during this close approach, with no control from us on Earth — and now we know it succeeded,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate at the agency headquarters in Washington.

“Parker is the culmination of six decades of scientific progress. Now, we have realized humanity’s first close visit to our star, which will have implications not just here on Earth, but for a deeper understanding of our universe.”

At the time of its closest approach, the spacecraft was exposed to sizzling temperatures of about 820 degrees Fahrenheit. But the probe didn’t even break a sweat thanks to its state-of-the-art heat shield — which is designed to withstand temperatures three times as high, the Inquisitr previously reported.

From here on out, things will only get hotter as the Parker Solar Probe moves closer and closer to the sun. The spacecraft will perform an additional 23 flybys of our star throughout its seven-year mission, the last of which will carry it through scorching solar material of temperatures of up to 2,500 degrees Fahrenheit.

Illustration of Parker Solar Probe approaching the Sun.
Illustration of Parker Solar Probe approaching the sun with its heat shield facing our star. NASA/Johns Hopkins APL/Steve Gribben

The Parker Solar Probe began its first solar approach on October 31. The entire phase will last for a couple more days, until November 11. After that, the spacecraft will distance itself from the sun and send back the data gathered during the flyby, which is expected to arrive in early December.

The probe will dive back toward the sun next spring and is scheduled to achieve its second perihelion on April 4.