National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is gearing up for the launch of Parker Solar Probe, the first-ever spacecraft to be sent into the Sun’s atmosphere.
The space agency recently unveiled the cutting-edge heat shield called the Thermal Protection System, or TPS that has been installed on the spacecraft to keep it safe from being burnt as it is expected to reach within 4 million miles of the Sun’s fiercely hot surface, a region of space that no other human-made spacecraft has ever visited.
When Parker Solar Probe’s will be closest to the Sun, temperatures on the heat shield will reach nearly 2,500 degrees Fahrenheit. At such a high temperature, the heat shield will safeguard everything from the spacecraft to its instruments by keeping them at a relatively comfortable temperature of about 85 degrees Fahrenheit.
The TPS shield is made of two panels of superheated carbon-carbon composite sandwiching a lightweight 4.5-inch-thick carbon foam core. A specially formulated white coating has been sprayed on the shield to reflect as much of the Sun’s energy away from the spacecraft as possible. The heat shield itself weighs only about 72.5 kg and measures 8 ft (2.43 m) in diameter.
If all goes well, NASA will launch the Parker Solar Probe (PSP) aboard a United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on August 4. NASA will live stream Parker Solar Probe’s launch on its official website. The spacecraft, which is about the size of a small car, will travel at approximately 430,000 mph.
The probe will travel for around seven years before reaching its final destination in 2024. The mission is expected to revolutionize scientists’ understanding of the corona and expand their knowledge of the origin and evolution of the solar wind. The craft will also collect important information about the life of stars and their weather events.