As ambitious as Icarus might’ve been, even he flew a little too close to the Sun. But in the non-fictional world, NASA is planning to do exactly the same.
But, you know, replacing those wax wings with a massive heat shield.
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The Parker Solar Probe, a multi-billion-dollar unmanned mission to the Sun has been made concrete this week, with a timeline and mission outline. The probe, renamed in honour of astrophysicist Eugene Parker, will travel to the Sun, and try extremely hard to not burst into flames.
It will be aided by a fat carbon-composite heat shield that’ll allow the craft to fly within six-million kilometres of the star’s surface. At that point, it’ll be close enough to study the corona — the Sun’s outer atmosphere — and the effects of solar wind.
NASA also outlined a brief mission dateline for the craft.
Launching in July-August 2018, the Parker Solar Probe will lap Venus seven times before hurtling towards the Sun. At that point, it’ll be travelling just under 700 000km/h.
Yes, seven-hundred thousand kilometres per hour.
That’ll make it the fastest man made object ever.
“Parker Solar Probe is going to answer questions about solar physics that we’ve puzzled over for more than six decades,” mission scientist Nicola Fox explains.
“It’s a spacecraft loaded with technological breakthroughs that will solve many of the largest mysteries about our star, including finding out why the sun’s corona is so much hotter than its surface. And we’re very proud to be able to carry Gene’s name with us on this amazing voyage of discovery.”
If all goes according to plan, the probe should reach the corona by 2025, and will make 24 orbits of the gas giant powering our solar system.
Feature image: Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/NASA