NASA postpones launch of first solar probe until Sunday

An artist's conception of NASA's Parker Solar Probe

An artist's conception of NASA's Parker Solar Probe

The launch of NASA's $1.5 billion Parker Solar Probe atop a heavy-lift Delta 4 Heavy rocket was scrubbed at the last minute early Saturday because of a technical glitch that could not be resolved before the launch window closed.

"The Parker Solar Probe will help us do a much better job of predicting when a disturbance in the solar wind could hit Earth", said Justin Kasper, a project scientist and professor at the University of MI.

The heat shield is built to withstand radiation equivalent up to about 500 times the Sun's radiation here on Earth.

It will take six years to reach its closest point to the sun, in 2024, by using Venus' gravity to bring itself nearer to the star. Unfortunately, we didn't have enough time this evening to go troubleshoot that and try again for a launch.

The probe will fly through the sun's corona to gather data on the sun's great mysteries, such as the solar winds that create aurorae on Earth and disrupt satellites and power grids.

But these solar outbursts are poorly understood.

Knowing more about the solar wind and space storms will also help protect future deep space explorers as they journey toward the Moon or Mars.

The United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy rocket with the Parker Solar Probe onboard shortly after the Mobile Service Tower was rolled back

The probe is protected by an ultra-powerful heat shield that is just 4.5 inches thick (11.43 centimeters).

The probe will be controlled from the Mission Operations Centre based at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (JHU APL), which is where NASA handles its unmanned missions.

"We are ready. We have the ideal payload".

The probe is named after Eugene Parker, a solar physicist who in 1958 first predicted the existence of the solar wind, the stream of charged particles and magnetic fields that flow continuously from the Sun.

Yesterday's launch attempt encountered a series of snags, with controllers ultimately running out of time.

Zooming through space in a highly elliptical orbit, Parker Solar Probe will reach speeds up to 692,018 km per hour, setting the record for the fastest spacecraft in history.

"With each orbit, we'll be seeing new regions of the Sun's atmosphere and learning things about stellar mechanics that we've wanted to explore for decades", Fox added.




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