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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
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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)

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Rocket Lab is Set To Launch 10 NASA CubeSats

They will be placed in RailPODs aboard the Electron rocket that will ferry them to space

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Kepler, NASA, tissue
Rocket Lab to launch 10 NASA CubeSats on Sunday. Pixabay

In its first mission for NASA, the American aerospace manufacturer Rocket Lab is set to launch 10 small research satellites, or CubeSats, from New Zealand, the US space agency said.

Owing to bad weather, Rocket Lab was forced to postpone the earlier decided launch on December 12.

Rocket Lab is now targeting the ELaNa-19 launch on December 15 with a launch window opening at 11 p.m. EST from the company’s launch complex on the Mahia Peninsula in New Zealand, NASA said in a statement on Friday.

The CubeSats were built by three NASA centres, seven universities, and a middle school under the NASA’s Educational Launch of Nanosatellites, or (ELaNa-19) mission.

ElaNa-19 is NASA’s first to be completely dedicated to launching CubeSats under the agency’s Venture Class Launch Services program for small-satellite launches.

More than 250 students have been involved in the design, development and construction of the CubeSats scheduled to be flown as payloads on Rocket Lab’s Electron rocket.

NASA, Hubble, Keplar, asteroids
Owing to bad weather, Rocket Lab was forced to postpone the earlier decided launch on December 12. Flickr

“The major difference between today’s launch and previous #ELaNa missions is that for the first time, NASA will have a launch completely dedicated to CubeSats rather than having the small satellites ride along with a much larger spacecraft that is the primary mission,” NASA Launch Services Program officials wrote on Twitter on December 12.

The 10 CubeSats are named as CubeSail, CeREs, NMTSat, CHOMPTT, ALBus, STF-1, ISX, RSat, Shields-1 and DaVinci, NASA said.

These are built to standard dimensions of one unit (1U), and can be 1U, 2U, 3U or 6U in size. They generally weigh less than 1.33 kg per U — 6U may be up to 12 kg.

Also Read- Food Poisoning Proves Fatal To 11 People After Eating Temple Food

They will be placed in RailPODs aboard the Electron rocket that will ferry them to space.

After the main payload deploys, the CubeSats will separate from their RailPODs. After 45 minutes in orbit, the CubeSat transmitters will turn on and university ground stations will listen for their beacons, determine their small satellites’ functionality and announce operational status.

CubeSat mission durations and orbital life vary but are anticipated to last at least three years. Upon mission completion, the CubeSats fall to Earth, burning up in the atmosphere, NASA noted. (IANS)