NASA postpones launch of probe to study sun at close range

NASA's Parker Solar Probe Rolls Out to Launchpad for Sun Touching Mission

Engineers are taking utmost caution with the $1.5 billion Parker Solar Probe, which Thomas Zurbuchen, head of NASA's science mission directorate, described as one of the agency's most "strategically important missions".

The launch of the probe, which will be carried on the back of a United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy rocket, is now scheduled to take place on Sunday morning.

The next launch window opens at 3:31 am (0731 GMT) on Sunday, when weather conditions are 60 per cent favorable for launch, NASA said.

Over seven years, the Parker probe will perform 24 orbits passing through the sun's outer atmosphere, or corona, investigating why it is so much hotter than the sun's surface and what accelerates the solar wind to supersonic speeds. It will be subjected to brutal heat and radiation like no other man-made structure before.

The probe will fly through the sun's corona to gather data on the sun's great mysteries, such as the solar winds that create aurorae on Earth and disrupt satellites and power grids.

NASA has delayed the launch of a probe which will make a series of unprecedented orbits of the sun.

The probe is armed with a high-powered heat shield that is 11.43 centimeters (4.5 inches) thick.

A $1.5 billion Parker Solar Probe mission will fly through the sun's outer atmosphere within 6.4 million km of the big hot star repeatedly, gathering key insights about solar structure, activity, atmosphere, solar winds and other features.

Even in a region where temperatures can reach more than a million degrees Fahrenheit, the sunlight is expected to heat the shield to just around 2,500 deg F (1,371 deg C).

If all works as planned, the inside of the spacecraft should stay at just 85 degrees Fahrenheit.

The probe will be controlled from the Mission Operations Centre based at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (JHU APL), which is where NASA handles its unmanned missions. "Some high-energy solar particles accelerate to almost half the speed of light, and we don't know why".

Parker, now 91, recalled that at first some people did not believe in his theory.

"We will also be listening for plasma waves that we know flow around when particles move", Fox added. When it nears the Sun, the probe will travel rapidly enough to go from NY to Tokyo in one minute - some 688,000kmh - making it the fastest human-made object.

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