Published: Tue, August 14, 2018
Sci-tech | By Bennie Mills

Parker Solar Probe launch delayed until Sunday

Parker Solar Probe launch delayed until Sunday

As soon as this fall, the Parker Solar Probe will fly straight through the wispy edges of the sun's corona, or outer atmosphere, that was visible during last August's total solar eclipse.

On board the Delta IV Heavy rocket is the Parker Solar Probe on its first mission to the sun.

The Parker Solar Probe's mission is set to "revolutionise" our understanding of the Sun, as the satellite will get close to 4 per cent of the distance between the Sun and the Earth.

The probe is equipped with a 4 1/2-inch thick carbon-carbon heat shield created to withstand temperatures of about 2,500 degrees Fahrenheit.

To handle the heat it has been covered with a special 4.5 inch (11.3 cm) thick carbon-composite shield capable of withstanding temperatures up to 1,650C (3,002F).

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The probe will help scientists understand more about the nature of the sun by taking measurements of solar winds, a flow of ionised gases.

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.

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Parker described the Parker Solar Probe as a "a very complex machine", and said he was "impressed".

He said: "Imagine the Sun and the Earth were a metre apart".

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"Parker Solar Probe is part of NASA's Living With a Star program to explore aspects of the Sun-Earth system that directly affect life and society".

"Go, baby, go!" project scientist Nicola Fox of Johns Hopkins University shouted at liftoff. And so, these are sort of the three fundamental questions we want to address: "the speed of the solar wind, this eruptive phenomena, solar storms, and how is the corona heated?" It was then scrubbed by NASA and the teams will attempt a launch on Sunday morning.

But getting so close to the Sun requires slowing down - for which Parker will use the gravity of our neighbor planet, Venus. When it nears the Sun, the probe will travel rapidly enough to go from NY to Tokyo in one minute - some 688,000kmh - making it the fastest human-made object.

The Parker Solar Probe is equipped with four instruments.

"All I can say is, 'Wow, here we go.' We're in for some learning over the next several years", said Eugene Parker, the 91-year-old astrophysicist for whom the spacecraft is named.

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