NASA would be sending a spacecraft to the sun on the 11th of August if the weather is favorable and things go according to plan. The spacecraft called the Parker Solar Probe would be the closest ever spacecraft to the massive ball of gas and plasma. It will have to brave the extreme temperatures which would reach up to 2,500 degrees Fahrenheit to get images and data of the sun’s atmosphere which is also called the corona. With a top speed of 430,000 mph, this would be the fastest ever human made object. Talking about speed, it is fast enough to reach Philadelphia to DC in a second. That said, it is still not fast enough to reach the Alpha Centauri within the whole of our lifetime. It would have to travel around 7,000 years to reach the star which is closest to our sun.
NASA aims to use the data which would be gathered by the spacecraft to know how to tackle the solar winds. Solar winds are streams of charged particles which are emitted by the corona. If they are strong, they can change satellites’ orbits or even interfere with their instruments. Apart from this, they can affect power grids on the Earth. It is important to know how solar winds can affect our vehicles if we have to dig deeper into the space. Also, we have to take a closer look at the star nearest to us to learn more about the other stars present in the universe.
The Parker Solar Probe would first have to spend seven years encircling the sun again and again. It then would be able to soar as near as 3.83 million miles above the sun’s surface. It would have to use the planet Venus’ gravity to fly closer to the sun each orbit by orbit, thereby picking up speed in this process. As it would come to the final orbit, it would be travelling around the sun at a speed of 430,000 mph.
The Parker would be able to handle the sun’s intense heat with the help of a heat shield which is made of carbon composite foam and plates. The instruments are made up of alloy which has a very, very high melting point. There is also an effective cooling system that can keep the arrays, instruments and mechanisms cool enough to function.
NASA will be launching the Parker on top of a United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy rocket from Cape Canaveral which is located in Florida. If you want to witness this, do tune into NASA TV on August 11th before 3:33 AM Eastern time when the launch window opens up.