Parker Solar Probe: Nasa launches mission to 'touch the Sun'

Parker Solar Probe

Parker Solar Probe

NASA needed the mighty 23-story rocket, plus a third stage, to get the Parker probe - the size of a small auto and well under a ton - racing toward the sun, 93 million miles (150 million kilometers) from Earth.

The United Launch Alliance Delta IV rocket carrying NASA's Parker Solar Probe launches from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida on August 12, 2018.

The Parker solar probe, a robotic spacecraft the size of a small vehicle, launched from Cape Canaveral in Florida on Sunday, embarking on a seven-year mission which will see it flying into the sun's corona - the outermost part of its atmosphere - within 3.8m miles (6.1 m km) of its surface.

Passing within 3.8 million miles of the sun's visible surface - well within the shimmering halo of the outer atmosphere, or corona - the spacecraft's heat shield will endure 2,500-degree heating while whipping past the star at a record 430,000 mph, fast enough to fly from NY to Tokyo in less than a minute.

In particular, it is hoped to give scientists a greater understanding of solar wind storms that have the potential to knock out the power on Earth. It is the first mission ever to attempt to touch the sun.

It is the first space craft to be named after a living person - astrophysicist Eugene Parker, 91, who first described solar wind in 1958.

It left in the early hours of yesterday morning and will end up being just 3.8 million miles away from the surface of the sun.

The spacecraft is protected from melting during its close shave with the Sun by a heat shield just 4.5 inches (11.43 centimeters) thick.

Scientists expect the $1.5-billion mission to shed light not only on our own dynamic sun, but the billions of other yellow dwarf stars - and other types of stars - out there in the Milky Way and beyond.

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The car-sized probe was launched aboard a Delta IV-Heavy rocket at 3.31 a.m.

Over the course of almost seven years and 24 solar orbits, the probe will make use of seven Venus flybys to adjust its trajectory. "We are in for some learning over the next several years", Parker told NASA television. Hurling a spacecraft to the sun can actually make sense.

"It's a whole new phase, and it's going to be fascinating throughout".

Launching in a ball of flame that lit up the night sky, Nasa's Parker Solar Probe today set off on its seven-year odyssey to unlock the secrets of the Sun.

Parker Solar Probe's solar arrays can produce 388 watts of power, depending on configuration.

A worst-case scenario could cost up to two trillion dollars in the first year alone and take a decade to fully recover from, experts have warned. Seven Venus flybys are planned over the seven-year mission to fine-tune the trajectory, setting up the close-in aim points.

"All I have to say is wow, here we go".

"We've had to wait so long for our technology to catch up with our dreams", Fox said.

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