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NASA's finally launches its $1.5bn Parker Solar Probe on a historic mission to the SUN


NASA has finally sent a spacecraft on a mission to fly where no probe has ever gone before – into the sun’s scorching outer atmosphere.

The probe took off at 3.31 ET (8.31 BST) this morning. It was initially set to launch at 3.33am ET (8.33am BST) yesterday, but poor conditions meant it was pushed back 24-hours.

The unmanned spacecraft is on an unprecedented quest that will take it straight through the edges of the corona, or outer solar atmosphere, just 3.8million miles from the sun’s surface. Previously, the closest an aircraft had come to the sun was 27million miles.

Flying: At it's fastest spacecraft went travels at 119miles per second, pictured taking off

Flying: At it’s fastest spacecraft went travels at 119miles per second, pictured taking off

Taking off: The rocket launches its historic mission to the sun this moning

Taking off: The rocket launches its historic mission to the sun this moning

The United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy rocket launches NASA's Parker Solar Probe to touch the Sun, from Launch Complex 37 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida,

The United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy rocket launches NASA’s Parker Solar Probe to touch the Sun, from Launch Complex 37 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida,

The Parker Solar Probe will venture closer to the Sun than any other spacecraft and is protected by a first-of-its-kind heat shield and other innovative technologies that will provide unprecedented information about the Sun

The Parker Solar Probe will venture closer to the Sun than any other spacecraft and is protected by a first-of-its-kind heat shield and other innovative technologies that will provide unprecedented information about the Sun

The Delta IV rocket, carrying the Parker Solar Probe, lifts off from launch complex 37 at the Kennedy Space Center, Cape Canaveral this morning

The Delta IV rocket, carrying the Parker Solar Probe, lifts off from launch complex 37 at the Kennedy Space Center, Cape Canaveral this morning

The Delta IV rocket seen during a time exposure at the Kennedy Space Center this morning

The Delta IV rocket seen during a time exposure at the Kennedy Space Center this morning

The NASA spacecraft taking off this morning. By November it will reach Venus and begin its first orbit of the sun

The NASA spacecraft taking off this morning. By November it will reach Venus and begin its first orbit of the sun

The probe, pictured taking off in Florida, will reach temperatures of 2,500 degrees Fahrenheit (1,371C) when it comes closer to the sun than any spacecraft in history – but, behind its thick heat shield, it will only feel like a hot summer day, with this sheltered region maxing out at about 85F (29C)

The probe, pictured taking off in Florida, will reach temperatures of 2,500 degrees Fahrenheit (1,371C) when it comes closer to the sun than any spacecraft in history – but, behind its thick heat shield, it will only feel like a hot summer day, with this sheltered region maxing out at about 85F (29C)

The probe (pictured) will rely on a series of gravity assists from Venus to slow down its sideways motion, allowing it to get just 3.8 million miles away from the sun’s surface

The probe (pictured) will rely on a series of gravity assists from Venus to slow down its sideways motion, allowing it to get just 3.8 million miles away from the sun’s surface

The $1.5billion (£1.17billion) Parker Probe blasted off atop one of the most powerful rockets in the world.

It will eventually hit record-breaking speeds of up to 430,000 miles per hour as it completes 24 orbits of the sun over the course of seven years. At this speed, it would take two minutes to travel from London to New York.  

While orbitting the sun, the craft will swing around Venus seven times, using the planet’s gravity to push it closer and closer to our star with each pass; eventually, the Parker probe will get within 3.8 million miles of the sun’s surface.

It will make its first fly past Venus in October, and is protected by a revolutionary new heat shield.

That will set up the first solar encounter in November.

It will be subjected to temperatures of roughly 2,500 degrees Fahrenheit (1,371C) when it comes closer to the sun than any spacecraft in history – but, behind its thick heat shield, it will only feel like a hot summer day, with this sheltered region maxing out at about 85F (29C).

Preparing to launch: The probe gets ready for take-off at T-minus one second this morning

Preparing to launch: The probe gets ready for take-off at T-minus one second this morning

Ready to go: The conditions are clear for the probe to take off this morning

Ready to go: The conditions are clear for the probe to take off this morning

The $1.5billion probe blasted off atop one of the most powerful rockets in the world in Cape Canaveral this morning

The $1.5billion probe blasted off atop one of the most powerful rockets in the world in Cape Canaveral this morning

Blast off! The rocket launches on a unprecedented mission into outer space to reach to come closer to the sun than ever before 

Blast off! The rocket launches on a unprecedented mission into outer space to reach to come closer to the sun than ever before 

Launched: The rocket eventually took off this morning after a 24-hour delay. At it's fastest, it will reach speeds of 119 miles a second

Launched: The rocket eventually took off this morning after a 24-hour delay. At it’s fastest, it will reach speeds of 119 miles a second

We have lift off! The probe took off after a 24-hour delay this morning, it will be within 3.8 million miles of the sun

We have lift off! The probe took off after a 24-hour delay this morning, it will be within 3.8 million miles of the sun

The $1.5billion (£1.17billion) Parker Probe blasted off atop one of the most powerful rockets in the world

The $1.5billion (£1.17billion) Parker Probe blasted off atop one of the most powerful rockets in the world

Into the sky! The probe will be subjected to temperatures of roughly 2,500 degrees Fahrenheit (1,371C) when it comes closer to the sun than any spacecraft in history

Into the sky! The probe will be subjected to temperatures of roughly 2,500 degrees Fahrenheit (1,371C) when it comes closer to the sun than any spacecraft in history

Yesterday the agency had until 4.38am in Florida (9.38am BST) to take off but a ‘condition’ meant they missed the window, leaving people disappointed around the world as they tuned into the livestream.  

 ‘At this time, our Parker Solar Probe launch team is in a no-go status as we await further details. Teams are investigating a condition.

‘Today’s window opened for liftoff at 3.33am ET and closes at 4.38am ET’ they said. 

They later said the vehicle was cleared for launch, and would take off at 4.28am. 

The probe will rely on a series of gravity assists from Venus to slow down its sideways motion, allowing it to get just 3.8 million miles away from the sun’s surface. This will put the Parker probe well within the sun’s corona, which extends about 5 million miles above the surface. No spacecraft has ever ventured so close to the sun

The United Launch Alliance Delta IV heavy rocket with the Parker Solar Probe is illuminated ahead of launch at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station

The United Launch Alliance Delta IV heavy rocket with the Parker Solar Probe is illuminated ahead of launch at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station

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

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

But the Parker Solar Probe did not launch from Cape Canaveral until this morning atop a ULA Delta IV Heavy, already one of the most powerful rockets in the world, with a third stage attached.  

This mission will require 55 times more energy than would be needed to reach Mars, according to NASA. 

The probe will rely on a series of gravity assists from Venus to slow down its sideways motion, allowing it to get just 3.8 million miles away from the sun’s surface. 

As NASA engineer Bobak Ferdowsi pointed out on Twitter, that’s the equivalent distance of just 4.43 suns positioned next to each other.

This will put the Parker probe well within the sun’s corona, which extends about 5 million miles above the surface.

‘We’ll be going where no spacecraft has dared go before – within the corona of a star,’ said project scientist Nicky Fox, of the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Lab.

‘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.’

NASA live-tweeted the failure to launch yesterday morning

NASA live-tweeted the failure to launch yesterday morning

The United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy rocket with the Parker Solar Probe onboard is seen shortly after the Mobile Service Tower was rolled back in the early hours of yesterday morning

The United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy rocket with the Parker Solar Probe onboard is seen shortly after the Mobile Service Tower was rolled back in the early hours of yesterday morning

NASA counted down this morning to the launch of a $1.5 billion spacecraft that aims to plunge into the Sun's sizzling atmosphere and become humanity's first mission to explore a star

NASA counted down this morning to the launch of a $1.5 billion spacecraft that aims to plunge into the Sun’s sizzling atmosphere and become humanity’s first mission to explore a star

The $1.5 billion Parker Probe will blast off atop one of the most powerful rockets in the world, eventually hitting record-breaking speeds of up to 430,000 miles per hour as it completes 24 orbits of the sun over the course of seven years

The Parker Probe will be subjected to temperatures of roughly 2,500 degrees Fahrenheit when it comes closer to the sun than any spacecraft in history – but, behind its thick heat shield, it will only feel like a hot summer day, with this sheltered region maxing out at about 85 degrees.

The $1.5 billion (£1.17billion) Parker Probe (shown on left attached to the third stage rocket motor) will blast off atop one of the most powerful rockets in the world, eventually hitting record-breaking speeds of up to 430,000 miles per hour as it completes 24 orbits of the sun over the course of seven years

HOW WILL THE PARKER SOLAR PROBE GET SO CLOSE TO THE SUN?

The Parker Solar Probe mission will require 55 times more energy than would be needed to reach Mars, according to NASA.

It will launch atop a United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy, one of the most powerful rockets in the world, with a third stage attached.

But, its trajectory and speed are critical in getting to the correct orbit.

As Earth, and everything on it, are traveling at about 67,000 miles per hour in a direction that’s sideways to the sun, craft must be launched backward to cancel out the sideways motion, NASA explains.

The Parker probe is heading past the sun, so it will need to remove about 53,000 miles per hour, according to the space agency.

 The Parker Solar Probe will swing around Venus a total of seven times, with each pass slowing it down some and pushing it closer and closer to the sun. These orbits are shown in the animation above

This will require a boost from the powerful Delta IV rocket, and several gravity assists from Venus to slow it down.

The probe will rely on a series of gravity assists from Venus to slow down its sideways motion, allowing it to get just 3.8 million miles away from the sun’s surface.

‘In this case, rather than speeding up the spacecraft, as in a typical gravity assist, Venus slows down its sideways motion so the spacecraft can get close to the sun,’ NASA explains.

‘When it finally does get close, Parker Solar Probe will have lost much of its sideways speed, but gained a great deal of overall speed thanks to the sun’s gravity.

‘Parker Solar Probe will hurtle past the sun at 430,000 miles per hour.’

At its closest approach, it will get just 3.8 million miles from the surface of the sun, making it the only spacecraft to ever venture so close.

The corona, or the sun’s outer atmosphere, is home to ultra-hot solar material and some of the most extreme events emanating from our star.

Here, material heats up to millions of degrees, NASA says.

Parker Solar Probe’s unprecedented access to the corona will let it study the acceleration of solar wind up close, and observe the solar flares and coronal mass ejections that have rippling effects on space weather and communication systems down near Earth.

The craft is named for Dr Eugene Parker, who first predicted the existence of solar wind back in 1958, and is the only living person to have ever had a NASA mission named for them.

The probe is also towing the names of over 1.1 million people who signed up to have their names sent to the sun.

The Parker Solar Probe will launch from Cape Canaveral Saturday morning atop a ULA Delta IV Heavy, already one of the most powerful rockets in the world, with a third stage attached. Above, the massive rocket payload fairing can be seen with the mission emblems 

The Parker Solar Probe will launch from Cape Canaveral Saturday morning atop a ULA Delta IV Heavy, already one of the most powerful rockets in the world, with a third stage attached. Above, the massive rocket payload fairing can be seen with the mission emblems 

Roughly 1,400 pounds of solar projection and science equipment are protected by an advanced heat shield, which uses a 4.5-inch thick carbon composite foam material between two carbon fiber face sheets. The probe can be seen above as it was lifted onto the third stage rocket motor

Roughly 1,400 pounds of solar projection and science equipment are protected by an advanced heat shield, which uses a 4.5-inch thick carbon composite foam material between two carbon fiber face sheets. The probe can be seen above as it was lifted onto the third stage rocket motor

This and roughly 1,400 pounds of solar projection and science equipment are protected by an advanced heat shield, which uses a 4.5-inch thick carbon composite foam material between two carbon fibre face sheets.

‘NASA was planning to send a mission to the solar corona for decades, however, we did not have the technology that could protect a spacecraft and its instruments from the heat,’ says Adam Szabo, the mission scientist for Parker Solar Probe at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt.

‘Recent advances in materials science gave us the material to fashion a heat shield in front of the spacecraft not only to withstand the extreme heat of the sun, but to remain cool on the backside.’

Parker Solar Probe’s unprecedented access to the corona will let it study the acceleration of solar wind up close, and observe the solar flares and coronal mass ejections that have rippling effects on space weather and communication systems down near Earth

Parker Solar Probe’s unprecedented access to the corona will let it study the acceleration of solar wind up close, and observe the solar flares and coronal mass ejections that have rippling effects on space weather and communication systems down near Earth

WHAT IS NASA’S PARKER SOLAR PROBE AND WHEN WILL IT LAUNCH?

The Parker Solar Probe (PSP) is set to travel seven times closer to the sun than any spacecraft before it

The Parker Solar Probe (PSP) is set to travel seven times closer to the sun than any spacecraft before it

Nasa’s Parker Solar Probe (PSP) is set to travel seven times closer to the sun than any spacecraft before it.

Set for launch from Cape Canaveral, Florida, in August 2018, the probe will fly to the sun’s outer atmosphere to study life of stars and their weather events.

It is hoped that PSP can help scientists to better understand solar flares – brief eruptions of intense high-energy radiation from the sun’s surface that can knock out communications on Earth.

The spacecraft will swoop within 4 million miles (6.5 million km) of the sun’s surface – bringing it seven times closer to the sun’s surface than any spacecraft before it.

The craft will face extremes in heat and radiation and will reach speeds of up to 430,000 miles per hour (700,000 kph) at its closest flyby of the star.

The craft’s kit includes a white light imager called Whisper, which will take images of solar waves as the craft propels through them at high speeds.

To measure the ‘bulk plasma’ of solar winds – described by Nasa as the ‘bread and butter’ of the flares – a set of magnetic imaging equipment will also be stored on board. 

The historic mission will give us the best opportunity yet to study the star that holds up our entire solar system.

And, it’s one of the last places within our stellar neighborhood that has yet to be explored.

‘For scientists like myself, the reward of the long, hard work will be the unique set of measurements returned by Parker,’ Szabo said.

‘The solar corona is one of the last places in the solar system where no spacecraft has visited before. It gives me the sense of excitement of an explorer.’



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