NASA is preparing to launch a mission that will go where no probe has gone before: the sun. Not just in orbit of the sun, either. The Parker Solar Probe will come as close as possible to touching the sun without being swallowed up by waves of superheated plasma. Parker will blast through the sun’s corona, sending back data that could revolutionize our understanding of stars.
The launch is currently on track for as soon as August 11th with a Delta IV Heavy rocket, which is one of the most powerful launch vehicles in the world. The Heavy variant of this rocket has a third stage added for additional thrust, and the Parker Solar Probe will take full advantage. The probe itself is fairly small, just 1,400 pounds (635 kilograms) or about the same as a compact car. When it lifts off, Parker will become the fastest human spacecraft ever, a record currently held by the New Horizons Pluto probe launched in 2006. NASA estimates that Parker will hit 430,000 miles per hour (about 692,000 kilometers per hour).
After launch, Parker will need to bleed off some of that speed to make a safe approach of the sun and enter orbit. It will use a gravity slingshot around Venus to get that done. The Venus encounter will also swing the craft around to the best angle to meet up with the sun. Parker will actually rendezvous with Venus seven times during the mission, each time bringing it closer to the surface of the sun on its next orbit. NASA plans for a seven-year Parker mission consisting of 24 orbits of the sun.
At its closest approach, Parker will get within 3.8 million miles of the sun’s surface. That’s closer than any other spacecraft and within the corona. NASA has wanted to launch a mission like this for decades, but the technology to protect a spacecraft simply didn’t exist. The corona is home to solar material heated to millions of degrees and massive events like solar flares and coronal mass ejections.
Being inside the corona will allow scientists to collect more data than they ever could using remote coronal observations from more distant spacecraft. To keep Parker running for the full seven-year mission, NASA developed an advanced heat shield consisting of 4.5-inch carbon composite foam between two carbon fiber sheets. While the sun-facing side of the shield will hit 2,500 degrees Fahrenheit (1,371 degrees Celsius), the probe side will be a pleasant 85 degrees Fahrenheit (29.4 degrees Celsius).
NASA expects Parker to make its first close approach of the sun about three months after launch. Data will come back to Earth in December of this year.
SpaceX Launches ‘Better Than Nothing’ Starlink Beta
Those lucky few who have gotten invitations to try the service will have to pay a hefty up-front cost, and the speeds aren't amazing. Still, it's a new generation of satellite internet.
AMD May Allow Custom RX 6900 XT Cards, Launch Stock May Be Limited
There are rumors that Nvidia may not be the only company facing production shortages this holiday season. High-end GPUs might just be very hard to find in general.
Intel Launches New Xe Max Mobile GPUs for Entry-Level Content Creators
Intel has launched a new consumer, mobile GPU — but it's got a very specific use-case, at least for now.
The PlayStation 5 Will Only Be Available Online for Launch Day
The PlayStation 5 isn't going to be available in stores on launch day, and if you want to pick up an M.2 SSD to expand its storage, you'll have some time to figure out that purchase.