NASA Spacecraft to Reach the Sun's Corona Protected by Cutting-Edge Heat Shield


This August, NASA’s Parker Solar Probe will begin its historic mission as it will be heading towards the Sun. It’s goal: to collect data about the inner workings of the star’s corona right from the spot.

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Key to making the probe capable of withstanding the indescribable heat of the Sun is the heat shield, one that NASA says is “cutting-edge.” Officially called Thermal Protection System (TPS), it has been installed on the probe in June.

TPS weighs about 160 pounds and has a foam core made of 97 percent air. The foam sits between two panels of superheated carbon-carbon composite, sprayed on the sun-facing side with a specially formulated white coating.

The shield is supposed to make to probe capable of surviving temperatures of up to 2,500 degrees Fahrenheit (1,371 degrees Celsius). By taking much of the heat head-on, the shield would keep the spacecraft and its instruments cool at a brisk 85 degrees Fahrenheit (30 degrees Celsius).

The probe, which will launch in August, is supposed to get within 4 million miles of the Sun’s surface after traveling with speeds of up to 430,000 miles per hour at its closest approach to the star.

The corona of our system’s star begins at about 1,300 miles (2,100 km) above the solar surface and officially has no upper limit.

The corona cannot be seen with the naked eye except during a total solar eclipse, or with the use of a coronagraph. NASA says it has been planning to get up close and personal with the Sun for the past 60 years.

The Parker Solar Probe was created by the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory, which will also operate the spacecraft during its projected mission. It is part of the NASA Living with a Star Program (or LWS), meant to explore aspects of the Sun-Earth system that directly affect life and society.



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