The highly anticipated Parker Solar Probe is currently in its final stages of testing with the launch scheduled for July 2018.
The Parker Solar Probe is NASA’s first-ever spacecraft to be sent into the Sun’s atmosphere. “It is the coolest, hottest mission under the sun,” said project scientist Nicky Fox. “It’s going to explain to us how a star works.”
The spacecraft will reportedly establish a 450,000 mile-per-hour orbit around the sun, closer than any other spacecraft, using Venus’s gravity. It will make at least 24 orbits around the sun over the next seven years, at times getting within just 3.9 million miles.
The spacecraft, which is about the size of a small car, will be protected by a 4.5-inch-thick carbon-composite shield to withstand temperatures as hot as 2,500 degrees Fahrenheit.
Scientists expect that the data sent by the Parker Solar Probe spacecraft will help them characterize the sun’s structure, magnetic and electric fields and the solar wind. They are hoping that the observations will solve two longstanding solar mysteries – one related to how the solar wind is accelerated, and the other why the sun’s outer atmosphere, also known as corona, is so much hotter than the surface.
The Parker Solar Probe was initially called Solar Probe Plus. But in May 2017, NASA changed the mission’s name to honor pioneering astrophysicist Eugene Parker, who predicted the solar wind’s existence in 1958.
NASA even started a campaign asking people around the world to submit their names online to go on a microchip aboard the Parker Solar Probe spacecraft. Interested people can submit their names on NASA’s official website until April 27, 2018. The $1.5 billion Parker Solar Probe mission is set to launch from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on July 31.