NASA’s Parker Solar Probe, which is humanity’s first mission to the Sun, has begun final preparations for its launch in July.
Parker Solar Probe will be launched from Launch Complex-37 at NASA’s Kennedy Space Centre, Florida.
The two-hour launch window will open at 4am. on July 31, and will be repeated each day (at slightly earlier times) through August 19, the US space agency said in a statement.
After launch, it will orbit directly through the solar atmosphere – the corona – closer to the surface than any human-made object has ever gone.
While facing brutal heat and radiation, the mission will reveal fundamental science behind what drives the solar wind, the constant outpouring of material from the Sun that shapes planetary atmospheres and affects space weather near Earth.
At Astrotech Space Operations in Florida, the Parker Solar Probe will continue testing, and eventually undergo final assembly and mating to the third stage of the Delta IV Heavy launch vehicle.
“This is the second most important flight Parker Solar Probe will make, and we’re excited to be safely in Florida and continuing pre-launch work on the spacecraft,” said Andy Driesman, Parker Solar Probe project manager from the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory in Maryland.
For the next several months, the spacecraft will undergo comprehensive testing; just prior to being fueled, one of the most critical elements of the spacecraft, the thermal protection system (TPS), or heat shield, will be installed.
The TPS is the breakthrough technology that will allow Parker Solar Probe to survive the temperatures in the Sun’s corona, just 3.8 million miles from the surface of our star.
“There are many milestones to come for Parker Solar Probe and the amazing team of men and women who have worked so diligently to make this mission a reality,” Driesman said.
“The installation of the TPS will be our final major step before encapsulation and integration onto the launch vehicle.”
Throughout its seven-year mission, Parker Solar Probe will explore the Sun’s outer atmosphere and make critical observations to answer decades-old questions about the physics of stars.
Its data will also be useful in improving forecasts of major eruptions on the Sun and the subsequent space weather events that impact technology on Earth, as well as satellites and astronauts in space.