United Launch Alliance preps to launch NASA Parker solar prob

Final preparations are underway for a historic NASA mission to touch the sun.

"Launch teams are working on technical issues and weather is predicted to be 70 per cent chance of favourable conditions", NASA said in a tweet late on Thursday. Parker is now 91 years old and at Cape Canaveral with his family to witness his first launch - a Delta IV Heavy rocket with the spacecraft bearing his name.

The Parker Solar Probe, with a key instrument designed and developed at the University of Alabama in Huntsville and the Marshall Space Flight Center, will provide unprecedented information about our sun.

During its nominal mission lifetime of just under 7 years, Parker Solar Probe will complete 24 orbits of the Sun - reaching within 3.8 million miles of the Sun's surface at closest approach.

Nasa says the TPS has been tested to withstand up to 1,650C temperatures and "can handle any heat the sun can send its way".

Plenty of spacecraft have studied the sun, of course, but none have had the potential of the new mission: neither its orbital path nor its instruments have been possible until now, despite 60 years of scientists' dreams.

He added that he is "impressed" by the Parker Solar Probe, calling it "a very complex machine". And so, these are sort of the three fundamental questions we want to address: "the speed of the solar wind, this eruptive phenomena, solar storms, and how is the corona heated?" "Close in to the sun, what is driving the solar wind, what is causing it to have this major effect on the planet?" "If you have a better understanding of the behavior of these solar energetic particles, then you can make better predictions about when to send astronauts to Mars or protect a satellite before it gets ripped apart by a radiation burst".

Other instruments will measure the sun's magnetic field and the solar wind, particles so energized by the sun that they not only escape the sun's gravity but reach speeds exceeding 1 million miles per hour. By that time, it will be traveling at around 430,000 miles per hour, making it the fastest human-made object ever.

No human efforts to study our home star _ telescopes that scan the surface, X-ray observations of the corona, spacecraft that pass over the poles _ have fully answered these questions, said Justin Kasper, a space scientist at the University of MI and leader of a particle-sampling instrument suite.

Parker also received a tour of Kennedy Space Center. The more different dynamics the probe can watch, the more scientists can learn about how our star really works.

If everything goes as planned, the Parker Solar Probe will reach its first close point to the Sun this November, resulting in the first batch of data in December.

Parker has never seen a launch in person before.

To protect the suite of science instruments created to unlock answers about the solar corona and solar wind, Parker is a compact, but strong spacecraft.

"We've looked at it", said Nicola Fox who is among the scientists working with NASA on the probe". One would like to have some more detailed measurements of what's going on in the solar wind.

Vanessa Coleman