NASA launches solar probe

Altogether, the Parker probe will make 24 close approaches to our star during the seven-year, $1.5 billion journey.

With a big assist from Aerojet Rocketdyne, NASA's Parker Solar Probe is now on its way to humankind's closest encounter ever with a star - in this case our solar system's sun.

The launch was scheduled for Saturday, but technical glitches meant it didn't lift off until 3:31 a.m. ET Sunday from Space Launch Complex 37 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. The probe's seven-year mission will bring it to within 3.8 million miles of the solar surface, which sounds like a lot, but it's seven times closer than any previous spacecraft.

Scientists say that data should help them better understand the Sun's workings by tracing the flow of its energy, studying the solar corona and exploring the acceleration of solar wind.

Nasa added: "The mission's findings will help researchers improve their forecasts of space weather events, which have the potential to damage satellites and harm astronauts on orbit, disrupt radio communications and, at their most severe, overwhelm power grids".

This mission is the brainchild of Parker, who long ago predicted the turbulence of solar energy and its impact on our planet.

The mission is managed by the agency's Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland and was built, designed, managed, and operated by John Hopkins University Applied Physics Lab in Maryland.

It also marks the first time NASA has named a spacecraft after someone still alive, and 91-year-old Eugene Parker was there to watch the historic launch.

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Liftoff of the United States dollars 1.5 billion mission took place from Space Launch Complex 37 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in the U.S. at 3:31 am EDT (1:01 pm Indian Standard Time).

The probe is guarded by an ultra-powerful heat shield that is just 4.5 inches (11.43 centimeters) thick, enabling the spacecraft to survive its close shave with the fiery star.

The Agency will work with Nasa to get the most comprehensive survey of the sun ever. And why is the sun's surface, at 10,000 degrees Fahrenheit (5,500 Celsius), just a tiny fraction of the million-plus degree corona?

It aims to get closer than any human-made object in history to the centre of our solar system.

In addition to the RS-68A main engines for the United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy rocket that launched the Parker Probe into space, Aerojet Rocketdyne also supplied the RL10B-2 second stage engine and 12 MR-106 reaction control thrusters on the Delta Cryogenic Second Stage, as well as the full propulsion system on the Parker Solar Probe. "We're in for some learning over the next several years", he said after watching the lift-off from the scene.

It was the first time NASA named a spacecraft after someone still alive, and Parker wasn't about to let it take off without him.

Nasa chief of the science mission directorate, Thomas Zurbuchen, said Mr Parker was an "incredible hero of our scientific community" and called the probe one of Nasa's most "strategically important" missions.

The Parker will make 24 orbits of the sun over nearly seven years, using Venus to help slow down and reduce its orbital distance to the sun. It wasn't until four years later, when a spacecraft bound for Venus found traces of energized particles streaming through space, that Parker's theory started to gain acceptance.

  • Douglas Reid