NASA to Make Announcement About First Mission to Touch Sun

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NASA to Make Announcement About First Mission to Touch Sun

ASA will make an announcement about the agency’s first mission to fly directly into our sun’s atmosphere during an event at 11 a.m. EDT Wednesday, May 31, from the University of Chicago’s William Eckhardt Research Center Auditorium. The event will air live on NASA Television and the agency’s website.

The mission, Solar Probe Plus, is scheduled to launch in the summer of 2018.

Solar Probe Plus will swoop to within 4 million miles of the sun’s surface, facing heat and radiation like no spacecraft before it.

Launching in 2018, Solar Probe Plus will provide new data on solar activity and make critical contributions to our ability to forecast major space-weather events that impact life on Earth.

Solar Probe Plus is an extraordinary and historic mission exploring arguably the last and most important region of the solar system to be visited by a spacecraft to finally answer top-priority science goals for over five decades.

But we don’t do this just for the basic science.

One recent study by the National Academy of Sciences estimated that without advance warning a huge solar event could cause two trillion dollars in damage in the US alone, and the eastern seaboard of the US could be without power for a year.

In order to unlock the mysteries of the corona, but also to protect a society that is increasingly dependent on technology from the threats of space weather, we will send Solar Probe Plus to touch the sun.

The resulting data will improve forecasts of major space weather events that impact life on Earth, as well as satellites and astronauts in space.

Participants include:

  • Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington
  • Nicola Fox, mission project scientist at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland
  • Eugene Parker, S. Chandrasekhar Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus at the University of Chicago
  • Eric Isaacs, executive vice president for research, innovation and national laboratories at the University of Chicago
  • Rocky Kolb, dean of the Division of the Physical Sciences at the University of Chicago

 

Why Solar Probe Plus?

We live in the sun’s atmosphere! This mission will provide insight on a critical link in the Sun-Earth connection.

Data will be key to understanding and, perhaps, forecasting space weather.

We need to go so close because:

  • the corona is unstable, producing the solar wind, flares and coronal mass ejections – we need to study at the source!
  • millions of tons of highly magnetized material can erupt from the sun at speeds of several million miles an hour – fast enough to get from Washington to LA in seconds!

Why is the corona hotter than the surface?

Why is there a solar wind?

We can only answer these questions by getting up close and personal with our star

Two views of the sun's atmosphere

The concept for a “Solar Probe” dates back to “Simpson’s Committee” of the Space Science Board (National Academy of Sciences, 24 October 1958).

The need for extraordinary knowledge of sun from remote observations, theory, and modeling to answer the questions:

  • Why is the solar corona so much hotter than the photosphere?
  • How is the solar wind accelerated?

The answers to these questions have been of top priority in multiple Roadmaps and Decadal Surveys.

We live in the atmosphere of the sun.

Physics of the corona and inner heliosphere connect the activity of the sun to the environment and technological infrastructure of Earth will:

  • drive the fundamental physics of the heliosphere, aurora, and magnetosphere of Earth and other planets
  • help us improve satellite communications, power grid issues, pipeline erosion, radiation exposure on airline flights, astronaut safety

Until we can explain what is going on up close to the sun, we will not be able to accurately predict space weather effects that can cause havoc at Earth.

SPACECRAFT

Extreme Engineering

NASA’s historic Solar Probe Plus (SPP) mission will revolutionize our understanding of the Sun. SPP will swoop closer to the Sun’s surface than any spacecraft before it, facing brutal heat and radiation conditions.

The spacecraft will come as close as 3.9 million miles (6.2 million kilometers) to the Sun, well within the orbit of Mercury and more than seven times closer than any spacecraft has come before.

To perform these unprecedented investigations, the spacecraft and instruments will be protected from the Sun’s heat by a 4.5-inch-thick (11.43 cm) carbon-composite shield, which will need to withstand temperatures outside the spacecraft that reach nearly 2,500 degrees Fahrenheit (1,377 degrees Celsius).

Anti-Ram Facing View

Click to enlarge

Diagram of Anti-Ram Facing View

Ram Facing View

Click to enlarge

Diagram of Ram Facing View

Concept of Operations

Diagram of concept of operation of the Solar Probe Plus Spacecraft
source : NASA

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