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NASA Delays Launch of Solar Probe

The heat shield is made of a 4.5-inch thick carbon composite foam material between two carbon fibre face sheets

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Launched on August 12, Parker Solar Probe, NASA's historic small car-sized probe will journey steadily closer to the Sun, until it makes its closest approach at 3.8 million miles. Pixabay
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NASA on Saturday scrubbed the scheduled launch of its historic small car-size probe to “touch the Sun” from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

The agency is now targeting Sunday for the launch of the spacecraft which is designed to NASAgo all the way to the Sun’s atmosphere, or corona — closer to the Sun than any spacecraft in history.

“This morning’s launch of @NASASun’s #ParkerSolarProbe was scrubbed. Launch teams will attempt to launch on Sunday morning,” NASA said in a tweet on Saturday.

The probe is named after Eugene Parker, a solar physicist who in 1958 first predicted the existence of the solar wind, the stream of charged particles and magnetic fields that flow continuously from the Sun.

Nestled atop a United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy — one of the world’s most powerful rockets — with a third stage added, Parker Solar Probe will blast off toward the Sun with a whopping 55 times more energy than is required to reach Mars.

Weighing just 635 kgs, it is a relatively light spacecraft, Andy Driesman, project manager for the mission at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in the US, said in an earlier statement issued by NASA.

NASA
This morning’s launch of @NASASun’s #ParkerSolarProbe was scrubbed. Launch teams will attempt to launch on Sunday morning. Flickr

“And it needs to be, because it takes an immense amount of energy to get to our final orbit around the Sun,” Driesman added.

Zooming through space in a highly elliptical orbit, the Parker Solar Probe will reach speeds of up to 700,000 kms per hour, setting the record for the fastest spacecraft in history.

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

In an orbit this close to the Sun, the real challenge is to keep the spacecraft from burning up.

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“Recent advances in materials science gave us the material to fashion a heat shield in front of the spacecraft not only to withstand the extreme heat of the Sun, but to remain cool on the backside,” said Adam Szabo, the mission scientist for the Parker Solar Probe at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.

The heat shield is made of a 4.5-inch thick carbon composite foam material between two carbon fibre face sheets.

At the Parker Solar Probe’s closest approach to the Sun, temperatures on the heat shield will reach nearly 1,371 degrees Celsius, but the spacecraft and its instruments will be kept at a relatively comfortable temperature of about 29.4 degrees Celsius. (IANS)

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Chandra Observatory By NASA Back in Action

Scientists are currently performing analyses and tests to determine what options were available to recover the gyro to operational performance

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NASA's Chandra Observatory back in action. Pixabay

NASA Chandra X-Ray Observatory, observing the universe in high-energy light since 1999, is back in action after suffering a glitch due to the failure of the gyroscope and going into safe mode last week.

The cause of Chandra’s safe mode on October 10 has now been understood and the Operations team has successfully returned the spacecraft to its normal pointing mode, according to the US space agency.

“The safe mode was caused by a glitch in one of Chandra’s gyroscopes resulting in a 3-second period of bad data that, in turn, led the on-board computer to calculate an incorrect value for the spacecraft momentum. The erroneous momentum indication then triggered the safe mode,” NASA said in a statement late on Monday.

The team has completed plans to switch gyroscopes and place the gyroscope that experienced the glitch in reserve.

Once configured with a series of pre-tested flight software patches, the team will return Chandra to science operations which are expected to commence by the end of this week, NASA said.

On October 10, Chandra X-ray Observatory entered safe mode, in which the observatory is put into a safe configuration, critical hardware is swapped to back-up units, the spacecraft points so that the solar panels get maximum sunlight, and the mirrors point away from the Sun.

Chandra is 19 years old, which is well beyond the original design lifetime of five years. In 2001, NASA extended its lifetime to 10 years.

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NASA’s Dawn spacecraft, which has been orbiting the dwarf planet Ceres since March 2015, is also nearly out of fuel and might run out as early as October. Flickr

The US space agency said that it was also continuing to work towards resuming science operations of the Hubble Space Telescope that on October 5, entered safe mode after one of the three gyroscopes (gyros) being used to point and steady the telescope failed.

Gyroscopes help spacecraft maintain proper orientation.

Scientists are currently performing analyses and tests to determine what options were available to recover the gyro to operational performance.

Till that time, science operations with Hubble have been suspended.

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Besides Chandra and Hubble, NASA’s planet-hunting Kepler space telescope is also almost out of fuel. Kepler has found about 70 per cent of all known alien worlds to date.

NASA’s Dawn spacecraft, which has been orbiting the dwarf planet Ceres since March 2015, is also nearly out of fuel and might run out as early as October.

The space agency’s Mars rovers Opportunity and Curiosity too have faced issues of late. (IANS)