Nasa poised to launch its first sun-skimming spaceship

NASA preparing to send probe to the Sun; expected launch on August 11

NASA's Parker Solar Probe will be the first-ever mission to "touch" the sun.

Parker Solar Probe will travel through the Sun's atmosphere, closer to the surface than any spacecraft before it, facing brutal heat and radiation conditions - and ultimately providing humanity with the closest-ever observations of a star.

The £1.2billion Solar Probe Plus expedition will dip inside the sun's atmosphere and have to survive unimaginable levels of radiation and temperatures of 1,400°C as it "touches the Sun" after a mind-boggling four million mile journey.

Over the course of seven years, the probe will orbit the sun two dozen times. "It's very important for us to be able to predict the weather in the same simple way we predict the weather on Earth", explains Alex Young, a NASA scientist. In short, it will become the first spacecraft to pass through the hot atmosphere of the Sun, known as the corona (Greek: Star Crown, the upper layer of the Sun's atmosphere).

The Parker Solar Probe is equipped with a thick heat shield to protect itself from the sizzling temperatures.

Speeding by at a pace of 430,000 miles per hour will make it "the fastest human-made object", said project scientist Nicky Fox of the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Lab.

The spacecraft is expected to make its closest approach to the sun in the year 2024, as it flies 3.9 million miles above the solar surface.

Unlike a campfire, which feels hottest at the source, the heat from the Sun gets more intense further away from its surface. This allows for the shields, place on the back and front of the Parker Solar Probe, to be light while also meaning that there is not much material for heat to travel through allowing it to cool of quickly.

Fox said scientists have already studied the corona "every way imaginable", and a closer look is now needed.

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 almost 2,500 F (1,377 C). A series of instruments on board the spacecraft will measure the magnetic and electric fields, plasma waves and high energy particles. The $ 1.5 billion spacecraft created to "touch" the sun will be launched on August 11.

There is also a white light imager, taking pictures of what the spacecraft is about to "plow through", said Fox.

The NASA launch window is scheduled for exactly 3.33am EDT (8.33am BST), on Saturday, August 11. The success of the mission was fully investigated for the Spacecraft at Cape Canverell Air Force Station on July 30.

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