NASA’s Parker Solar Probe has finally arrived at Astrotech Space Operations in Titusville, Florida, to undergo its final stages of testing for the historic launch that is scheduled to happen this summer. The Parker Solar Probe will be the first-ever spacecraft to be sent into the Sun’s atmosphere.
The spacecraft was driven from NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center to Joint Base Andrews in Maryland at around midnight on April 2. From there, it was transported to Florida’s Space Coast Regional Airport by the 436th Airlift Wing of the United States Air Force. The spacecraft is currently at the Astrotech Space Operations, in Titusville, where it will eventually undergo comprehensive testing prior to final assembly and mating to the third stage of the Delta IV Heavy launch vehicle.
Once launched, NASA’s Parker Solar Probe will reportedly establish a 450,000 mile-per-hour orbit around the sun, closer than any other spacecraft. It will orbit directly through the sun’s upper atmosphere, the corona. To withstand and survive extreme temperatures, the solar probe will be installed with one of its most critical components, the thermal protection system (TPS), before getting fueled. The thermal protection system is the breakthrough technology that will enable the spacecraft to survive the temperatures in the Sun’s corona, just 3.8 million miles from the surface of our star.
Andy Driesman, Parker Solar Probe project manager from the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland, said that the installation of the TPS will be the final major step before encapsulation and integration onto the launch vehicle.
The mission is expected to reveal some fundamental information related to the sun’s structure, magnetic and electric fields and the solar wind. It will also shed light on how the solar wind is accelerated and how it influences the planetary atmosphere. The spacecraft is set to launch from Launch Complex-37 at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, Florida, on July 31, 2018, to begin its seven-year mission to and around the sun.