Parker Solar Probe launched on sun-study mission

Parker Solar Probe launch

NASA hopes the findings will enable scientists to forecast changes in Earth's space environment.

NASA's Parker Solar Probe launches from NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, U.S., August 12, 2018.

It will be the fastest human-made object with speeds up to 430,000 miles per hour, able to survive million degree temperatures, orbiting the sun just 4 million miles from its surface, after a 90 million-mile trip, to get the first measurements of the sun's energy.

Scientists are aiming to use the probe to collect data about the inner workings of the highly magnetised corona, to better understand the causes of solar wind. Seven Venus flybys are planned over the seven-year mission to fine-tune the trajectory, setting up the close-in aim points.

The car-sized spacecraft will travel directly into the Sun's atmosphere, about four million miles from its surface - and more than seven times closer than any spacecraft has come before, thanks to its innovative Thermal Protection System. With each orbit it will push closer and closer to the sun, ultimately circling the star at a distance that is less than 10 radii of the sun.

"The unique requirements of this mission made the Delta IV Heavy the ideal launch vehicle to deliver Parker Solar Probe into orbit with the highest precision", said Gary Wentz, ULA vice president of Government and Commercial Programs. Yet the inside of the spacecraft should stay at just 85 degrees Fahrenheit.

Over the next seven years, Parker will fly directly through the Sun's roasting hot outer atmosphere in a bid to unlock some of the solar system's greatest secrets.

"Fly baby girl, fly!" project scientist Nicola Fox of Johns Hopkins University said in a tweet right before liftoff.

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The probe is NASA's first to be named after a living person. He was at Cape Canaveral for the launch - his first - which he called "impressive".

Among them was 91-year-old astrophysicist Eugene Parker for whom the spacecraft is named, who proposed the existence of solar wind 60 years ago.

It took one of the most powerful rockets in the world to get the mission moving - not because the probe is large or heavy, but because of the speed required to cruise through the solar system. "We're in for some learning over the next several years", he said as he watched the lift-off.

"Wow, here we go!"

Parker said last week that he was "impressed" by the Parker Solar Probe, calling it "a very complex machine".

PSP is carrying four instrument suites created to study the sun's magnetic fields, plasma and energetic particles, and image the solar wind.

We just got one step closer to "touching" the sun.

At closest approach, PSP will hurtle around the sun at approximately 430,000 miles per hour.

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