NASA Installs Cutting-edge Heat Shield On Its First Spacecraft To The Sun

Posted: Jul 7 2018, 4:22pm CDT | by , Updated: Jul 7 2018, 4:34pm CDT, in News | Latest Science News

 
NASA Installs Cutting-edge Heat Shield on its First Spacecraft to the Sun
Credits: JHU APL

NASA's Parker Solar Probe will get closer to the Sun than any spacecraft has ever gone

NASA’s first solar probe has reached a major milestone on June 27 when a cutting-edge heat shield was successfully attached to its spacecraft. The Parker Solar Probe’s heat shield, called the Thermal Protection System, is designed to withstand extreme temperatures and will protect the spacecraft as it will fly directly into the Sun's atmosphere.

Parker Solar Probe is expected to launch in August 2018 and will travel through the sun’s corona, a region where no spacecraft has gone before. The spacecraft will fly into the Sun’s atmosphere as close as 4 million miles from its surface and make critical observations that will answer decades-old questions about the inner workings of our nearest star. The main objective of the mission is to track changes in solar corona or sun’s outer atmosphere and to determine what accelerates solar winds. The resulting data will improve our understanding of space weather events that impact life on Earth.

Flying closer to the Sun's atmosphere, the spacecraft will experience intense heat and solar radiation. The temperature outside the spacecraft would reach nearly 2,500 F that can pose hazard to the instruments aboard the spacecraft. With the help of its revolutionary heat shield, the spacecraft and its equipment will be kept at a relatively comfortable temperature of about 85 degrees Fahrenheit.

The heat shield is made from 4.5-inch-thick carbon foam core and is also sprayed with a specially formulated white coating which is capable of reflecting Sun's energy away from the spacecraft. The heat shield is light and weighs only about 160 pounds. As Parker Solar Probe travels so fast, at approximately 430,000 mph, the shield has to be lightweight to achieve the desired results.

The Thermal Protection System was first attached to the spacecraft during testing at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Lab in 2017 but it was on temporary basis. Now, the shield has become a permanent part of the spacecraft. The spacecraft is currently undergoing final preparations in Florida before its historic launch to the sun.

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