NASA Postpones Launch Of Spacecraft To ‘Touch Sun’

Illustrations of the Solar Probe Plus spacecraft leaving Earth. Pic JHU  APL

The early morning launch countdown was halted with just one-minute, 55 seconds remaining, keeping the Delta IV rocket on its pad with the Parker Solar Probe.

The reason for the delay was not immediately clear, but was called for after a gaseous helium alarm was sounded in the last moments before liftoff, officials said.

Thousands of people had gathered at Cape Canaveral to watch the take-off, which was initially due to take place at 4.38am local time.

Once on its way, the Parker probe will venture closer to our star than any other spacecraft.

The probe is equipped with a 4 1/2-inch thick carbon-carbon heat shield created to withstand temperatures of about 2,500 degrees Fahrenheit.

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The tools on board will measure the expanding corona and continually flowing atmosphere known as the solar wind, which solar physicist Eugene Parker first described in 1958.

"Today, this is finally possible with cutting-edge thermal engineering advances that can protect the mission on its unsafe journey".

"The Parker Solar Probe will help us do a much better job of predicting when a disturbance in the solar wind could hit Earth", said Justin Kasper, one of the project scientists and a professor at the University of MI.

The probe will travel at 430,000 miles an hour, faster than any spacecraft in history, and use Venus's gravity over the course of seven years to gradually bring its orbit closer to the sun.

"Eight long years of hard work by countless engineers and scientists is finally paying off", Adam Szabo, the mission scientist for Parker Solar Probe at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, said in a statement.

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The probe is going to fly directly into the sun's atmosphere and trace the movement of energy and heat with the particles that form solar winds.

The probe is set to use seven Venus flybys over almost seven years to steadily reduce its orbit around the Sun, using instruments created to image the solar wind and study electric and magnetic fields, coronal plasma and energetic particles.

Understanding more about solar activity could help scientists forecast the large eruptions from the sun that pose a threat to satellite and communications systems. The outreaching corona is hundreds of times hotter than the sun's actual surface, confounding scientists.

Image: An illustration of the probe leaving Earth.

The probe will be controlled from the Mission Operations Centre based at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (JHU APL), which is where NASA handles its unmanned missions.

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