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NASA Probe to ‘Touch’ the Sun Will Carry 1.1 mn Names

A memory card containing the names was installed on the spacecraft on May 18, the US space agency said

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NASA on Thursday confirmed a delay in the first piloted flights of Boeing and SpaceX.
NASA on Thursday confirmed a delay in the first piloted flights of Boeing and SpaceX. Pixabay
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When NASA’s s Parker Solar Probe, humanity’s first mission to “touch” a star, launches on July 31, it will carry more than scientific instruments on this historic journey — it will also hold more than 1.1 million names submitted by the public to go to the Sun, NASA has said.

Back in March, NASA invited people around the world to submit their names online to be placed on a microchip aboard its historic Parker Solar Probe. Submissions were accepted till April 27.

NASA this week revealed that a total of 1,137,202 names were submitted and confirmed over the seven-and-a-half-week period.

A memory card containing the names was installed on the spacecraft on May 18, the US space agency said.

The card was mounted on a plaque bearing a dedication to and a quote from the mission’s namesake, heliophysicist Eugene Parker, who first theorised the existence of the solar wind.

NASA
Representational Image, VOA

Throughout its seven-year mission, the spacecraft will swoop through the Sun’s atmosphere 24 times, getting closer to our star than any spacecraft has gone before.

“Parker Solar Probe is going to revolutionise our understanding of the Sun, the only star we can study up close,” said Nicola Fox, project scientist for Parker Solar Probe at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Lab in Laurel, Maryland.

“It’s fitting that as the mission undertakes one of the most extreme journeys of exploration ever tackled by a human-made object, the spacecraft will also carry along the names of so many people who are cheering it on its way,” she added.

This memory card also carries photos of Parker and a copy of his groundbreaking 1958 scientific paper.

Also Read: SpaceX to Launch Twin NASA Water Cycle Tracker Satellites

Parker proposed a number of concepts about how stars — including our Sun — give off material.

He called this cascade of energy and particles the solar wind, a constant outflow of material from the Sun that we now know shapes everything from the habitability of worlds to our solar system’s interaction with the rest of the galaxy.

Parker Solar Probe will explore the Sun’s outer atmosphere and make critical observations to answer decades-old questions about the physics of stars.

The resulting data may also improve forecasts of major eruptions on the Sun and subsequent space weather events that impact life on Earth, as well as satellites and astronauts in space, NASA said. (IANS)

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The Secret Behind NASA’s Parker Solar Probe

The spacecraft, launched from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on August 12, will transmit its first scientific observations in December.

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Why won't NASA's Parker Solar Probe melt?
Why won't NASA's Parker Solar Probe melt?VOA

With NASA launching a historic Parker Solar Probe deeper into the solar atmosphere than any mission before it, a moot question arises: Why won’t it melt?

Inside the solar atmosphere — a region known as the corona — the probe will provide observations of what drives the wide range of particles, energy and heat that course through the region.

The spacecraft will travel through material with temperatures greater than several million degrees Celsius while being bombarded with intense sunlight.

According to the US space agency, Parker Solar Probe has been designed to withstand the extreme conditions and temperature fluctuations for the mission.

“The key lies in its custom heat shield and an autonomous system that helps protect the mission from the Sun’s intense light emission, but does allow the coronal material to ‘touch’ the spacecraft,” NASA said in a statement.

Parker solar probe
The spacecraft, launched from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. IANS

While the Parker Solar Probe will travel through a space with temperatures of several million degrees, the surface of the heat shield that faces the Sun will only get heated to about 1,400 degree Celsius.

This is because “in space, the temperature can be thousands of degrees without providing significant heat to a given object or feeling hot. Since space is mostly empty, there are very few particles that can transfer energy to the spacecraft”.

The corona through which the Parker Solar Probe flies, for example, has an extremely high temperature but very low density.

The probe makes use of a heat shield known as the Thermal Protection System, or TPS, which is eight feet in diameter and 4.5 inches thick.

Those few inches of protection mean that just on the other side of the shield, the spacecraft body will sit at a comfortable 30 degrees Celsius.

Parker-Solar-2, NASA
The Parker Solar Probe sits in a clean room at Astrotech Space Operations in Titusville, Fla., after the installation of its heat shield. VOA

The TPS was designed by the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory, and was built at Carbon-Carbon Advanced Technologies, using a carbon composite foam sandwiched between two carbon plates.

This lightweight insulation will be accompanied by a finishing touch of white ceramic paint on the sun-facing plate, to reflect as much heat as possible.

“Tested to withstand up to 1,650 degrees Celsius, the TPS can handle any heat the Sun can send its way, keeping almost all instrumentation safe,” said NASA.

Another challenge came in the form of the electronic wiring — most cables would melt from exposure to heat radiation at such close proximity to the Sun.

To solve this problem, the team grew sapphire crystal tubes to suspend the wiring, and made the wires from the chemical element niobium.

NASA
Several other designs on the spacecraft keep Parker Solar Probe sheltered from the heat.Flickr

Several other designs on the spacecraft keep Parker Solar Probe sheltered from the heat.

Without protection, the solar panels — which use energy from the very star being studied to power the spacecraft — can overheat.

At each approach to the Sun, the solar arrays retract behind the heat shield’s shadow, leaving only a small segment exposed to the Sun’s intense rays.

Also Read: Red-hot Voyage to Sun Will Bring us Closer to our Star

The solar arrays have a surprisingly simple cooling system: a heated tank that keeps the coolant from freezing during launch, two radiators that will keep the coolant from freezing, aluminium fins to maximise the cooling surface, and pumps to circulate the coolant.

The spacecraft, launched from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on August 12, will transmit its first scientific observations in December. (IANS)