NASA Launches Probe to Go Deep into Sun's Scorching Atmosphere

Parker Solar Probe needs to do 7 flybys of Venus before reaching Sun

Since 2013, Engility has provided software assurance services to NASA for the Parker Solar Probe mission at the agency's IV&V facility in Fairmont, WV.

Independent Verification and Validation support work for NASA's Parker Solar Probe (PSP) concluded Sunday with the successful launch of the spacecraft headed to the sun's atmosphere for a historic scientific discovery mission. The mission will provide critical research data regarding essential solar mysteries. This solar probe, named after solar physicist Dr. Eugene Parker, is supposed to get closer to the Sun than any other man-made vehicle ever.

Once Parker reaches the corona of the Sun, it will study the Sun's energetic particles.

Being the first-ever mission of NASA to "touch" the Sun, the Parker Solar mission is about the size of a small vehicle that will travel directly into the Sun's atmosphere. The craft will endure extreme heat while zooming through the solar corona to study the Sun's outer atmosphere that gives rise to the solar winds. The average distance from the Sun for Earth is 93 million miles or 150 million km. This area is capable of reaching over 3 million degrees Fahrenheit. The spacecraft will fly close enough to the Sun to enter the highly magnetized corona, crossing the regions where solar energetic particles are accelerated. Such a probe is finally possible today through cutting-edge thermal engineering advances that can protect the spacecraft on its unsafe journey.

The spacecraft and instruments will be protected from the Sun's heat by a 4.5-inch-thick (11.43-centimeter-thick) carbon-composite shield, which will need to withstand radiation equivalent to ~500 times the Sun's radiation here on Earth.

It has been outfitted with a heat shield created to keep its instruments at a tolerable 85 degrees Fahrenheit or 29 degrees Celsius even as the spacecraft faces temperatures reaching almost 2,500 degrees Fahrenheit or 1,370 degrees Celsius at its closest pass.

The Team: The mission is part of NASA's "Living With a Star" program to explore aspects of the Sun-Earth system that directly affect life and society. The event was streamed live on NASA television and the website.

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