An artist’s concept of the Parker Solar Probe approaching the Sun. Source: JHUAPL

It didn’t end well for Ikaros but that doesn’t deter NASA. The US Space agency will soon send a probe to the sun’s corona, seven times closer to our star than any human object has previously gone.

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It is called the Parker Solar Probe (named in honor of astrophysicist Eugene Parker) and is a spacecraft the size of a small car. Scheduled for launch from Cape Canaveral on the 6th on August. Once arriving at the sun, it will it for seven years.

The Parker Probe will park in a vast elliptical orbit around the sun in a trajectory that will include seven flybys of Venus during its nearly seven years, to gradually shrink its elliptical orbit around the Sun, for a total of 24 orbits.

Since the near Sun radiation environment is predicted to cause spacecraft charging effects, radiation damage in materials and electronics, and communication interruptions, the spacecraft orbit is designed to be highly elliptical with short times spent near the Sun.

Animation of Parker Solar Probe’s trajectory from 7 August 2018 to 29 August 2025. Data source: HORIZONS System, JPL, NASA

The purpose is to study the corona, the Sun’s outer “atmosphere”, to determine the structure and dynamics of the Sun’s coronal magnetic field, understand how the solar corona and wind are heated and accelerated, and determine what processes accelerate energetic particles. The corona is, among other things, behind the so-called solar winds, which can make it possible for communication systems here on earth.

“We need to go to the corona because we have done so much science by looking at the star,”

“We’ve looked at it in every single different way you can imagine, every wavelength; we’ve traveled beyond the orbit of Mercury even. But we need to get into this action region and into the region where all of these mysteries are really occurring.”

– Project scientist Nicola Fox, a solar scientist at Johns Hopkins University, said on July 20 during a NASA news conference about the upcoming mission.

Nearly, Parker will come 6.1 million kilometers (3.7 million mi; 0.040 AU) from the “surface” of the sun. It is seven times as close as the previous record holder, the Helios 2 probe, which in the 1970s was 43 million kilometers away.

The close proximity to the sun will imply extreme heat and extreme radiation, the spacecraft’s systems are therefore designed to endure these extremes. NASA has designed a solar shadow-shield that is 11.4 cm (4.5 in) thick and is made of reinforced carbon composite, which is designed to withstand temperatures outside the spacecraft of about 1,377 °C (2,511 °F).

Members of the integration and testing team roll Parker Solar Probe into the Acoustic Test Chamber at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins APL/Ed Whitman

On average, the Earth is 150 million kilometers from the sun, while the planet Mercury never orbit the Sun closer than 46 million kilometers.

In Greek Mythology, Icarus and his father Daedalus, escaped from the island of Crete by means of wings attached with wax. Although Daedalus warned Icarus not to fly too close to the sun he did not heed the warning, the wax melted and he fell to his death. To be an “Icarus” is to fail or be destroyed because of lack of caution or excessive ambition.