Geoff Brown of Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Lab, or APL in Maryland, wrote in a NASA blog post that as of 12pm EDT on August 16, the Parker Solar Probe was 4.6 million kms from Earth. It was travelling at a speed of 62,764 kms per hour, and heading towards its first Venus flyby scheduled for October 3, 2018.
The spacecraft will use Venus to first slightly slow itself and then adjust its trajectory for an optimal path toward the first perihelion of the Sun on November 5 this year.
The Project Manager of APL, Andy Driesman said that the Parker Solar Probe is operating as designed and they are progressing through their commissioning activities.
This solar probe is the first mission into the Sun’s atmosphere, called the corona. The mission aims to directly explore the solar processes. These processes are key to understanding and forecasting space weather events which can have an impact life on Earth.
According to the mission controllers, the mission is going on very well and has already achieved several planned milestones toward full commissioning and operations.
The Parker Solar Probe uses the high-gain antenna to communicate high-rate science data to Earth. It was released on August 13 from locks which held the Parker Solar Probe stable during launch.
The spacecraft is being monitored by the controllers as it autonomously uses its thrusters to remove (or dump) momentum, which is part of the spacecraft’s flight operations.
The spacecraft remains in a stable and optimal flight profile by managing the momentum.
There are four instrument suites on board the Parker Solar Probe. Each of them will need to be powered and readied for science data collection.
The FIELDS investigation which has the most elements went first. Brown said that it was powered up on August 13 for two activities.
The first activity was the opening of the clamps which had held four of the five FIELDS antennas stowed during takeoff. After about 30 days of the launch, these antennas would be deployed. The antennas would stick out from the corners of the Thermal Protection System which are the spacecraft’s heat shield and hence would be exposed to the harsh solar environment.
The spacecraft’s magnetometer boom was fully deployed in the second activity that took place. This boom carries three magnetometers and a fifth, smaller electric field antenna. All these are part of the FIELDS suite.
Brown said, the remaining instrument check-outs and deployments for the spacecraft have been scheduled for the coming days.