Last-minute technical problem delays NASA's flight to sun

NASA  Johns Hopkins APL  Steve Gribben

NASA Johns Hopkins APL Steve Gribben

According to NASA, the forecast shows a 60 percent chance of favourable weather conditions for launch. The sun's gravity will accelerate the spacecraft to record-breaking speeds during such encounters; at its fastest, the Parker Solar Probe will go about 430,000 miles per hour (690,000 km/h), NASA officials said.

The new, 60-minute launch window opens at 3.31am (3.31pm Singapore time) for the Parker Solar Probe, a US$1.5 billion (S$2 billion) unmanned spacecraft that aims to get closer than any human-made object in history to the centre of our solar system.

A last-minute technical problem Saturday delayed NASA's unprecedented flight to the sun.

Over the course of its mission, the Parker Solar Probe will orbit the sun 24 times while being subjected to extreme heat and radiation, with temperatures expected to reach 1,377C, almost hot enough to melt steel.

Parker said he was "impressed" by the Parker Solar Probe, calling it "a very complex machine". Unfortunately, we didn't have enough time this evening to go troubleshoot that and try again for a launch.

NASA called off the launch of its ambitious Parker Solar Probe mission to the sun just minutes before an early-morning liftoff Saturday (Aug. 11) due to a glitch with the spacecraft's giant Delta IV Heavy rocket.

The probe is created to plunge into the Sun's mysterious atmosphere, known as the corona, coming within 3.83 million miles (6.16 million kilometers) of its surface during a seven-year mission.

Image: The probe's orbits will gradually take it nearer to the sun.

"The sun is full of mysteries", said Nicky Fox, project scientist at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Lab.

Sixty years ago, a young astrophysicist at the University of Chicago, Eugene Parker, proposed the existence of solar wind.

But getting so close to the Sun requires slowing down - for which Parker will use the gravity of our neighbor planet, Venus.

It is created to withstand heat of up to 1,000 degrees Celsius, speeds of 700,000 kilometres per hour and a journey that will last seven years.

"Parker Solar Probe uses Venus to adjust its course and slow down in order to put the spacecraft on the best trajectory", said Driesman. It's the first time NASA mission has been named after a living person.

It will get more than seven times closer than the current record holder for a close solar pass, a record set by the Helios 2 spacecraft in 1976.

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