NASA poised to launch first Sun-skimming spaceship

This handout illustration obtained July 6, 2018 courtesy of NASA shows an artist’s conception of NASA’s Parker Solar Probe, the spacecraft that will fly through the Sun’s corona to trace how energy and heat move through the star’s atmosphere. (AFP)
Updated 08 August 2018
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NASA poised to launch first Sun-skimming spaceship

  • NASA calls this mismatch “the coronal heating problem,” and hopes the Parker Solar Probe will solve the mystery of why the corona reaches temperatures of up to 10 million degrees Fahrenheit
  • Speeding by at a pace of 430,000 miles per hour will make it “the fastest human-made object

TAMPA: NASA is poised to launch a $1.5 billion spacecraft on a brutally hot journey toward the Sun, offering scientists the closest-ever view of our strange and mysterious star.
After the Parker Solar Probe blasts off from Cape Canaveral, Florida on August 11, it will become the first spacecraft ever to fly through the Sun’s scorching atmosphere, known as the corona.
Understanding how the corona works will help scientists anticipate dangerous space weather storms, which can disrupt the power grid on Earth.
“It’s of fundamental importance for us to be able to predict space weather much the way we predict weather on Earth,” explained Alex Young, a solar scientist at NASA.
The corona is a “very strange, unfamiliar environment for us.”

The unmanned probe is named after Eugene Parker, the 91-year-old pioneering solar astrophysicist, and the US space agency has coined it as the first mission to “touch the Sun.”
It will actually skim by at a distance of 3.83 million miles (6.16 million kilometers) above the Sun’s surface.
Mission managers say that may sound like a lot but is really quite a close shave, given the sweltering conditions out there.
The Sun-facing side of the probe will endure temperatures of about 2,500 degrees Fahrenheit (1,370 Celsius).
The spacecraft is protected by a heat shield that will keep it closer to room temperature, about 85 degrees Fahrenheit.
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.
Over the course of its seven year mission, the spacecraft aims to pass through the corona 24 times, which Fox said makes for an “incredibly daring journey.”

Unlike a campfire, which feels hottest at the source, the heat from the Sun gets more intense further away from its surface.
“As we go from the surface of the Sun, which is 10,000 degrees Fahrenheit, and move up into the corona, we find ourselves quickly at millions of degrees,” he said.
NASA calls this mismatch “the coronal heating problem,” and hopes the Parker Solar Probe will solve the mystery of why the corona reaches temperatures of up to 10 million degrees Fahrenheit.
Fox said scientists have already studied the corona “every way imaginable,” and a closer look is now needed.
“We need to get into this action region, where all of these mysteries are actually occurring.”

The probe is protected by a 4.5-inch-thick (11.43-centimeter) carbon-composite shield, built to withstand 500 times the Sun’s radiation on Earth.
A series of instruments on board the spacecraft will measure the magnetic and electric fields, plasma waves and high energy particles.
There is also a white light imager, taking pictures of what the spacecraft is about to “plow through,” said Fox.
“The goal is to have the instruments on all the time but the prime science gathering for us is about 11 days,” she told reporters ahead of the launch.
A 45-minute launch window opens on Saturday at 3:48 am (0748 GMT).
Awaiting liftoff, the car-sized probe is already packed on to the Delta IV-Heavy rocket at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.


Ivory Coast looks to solar vehicles to replace bush taxis

Updated 23 September 2018
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Ivory Coast looks to solar vehicles to replace bush taxis

  • A switch to solar and durables may appear paradoxical in Jacqueville, however, as the area produces the lion’s share of the country’s gas and oil
  • Ivory Coast is targeting an 11-percent share of national consumption for renewables by 2020

JACQUEVILLE, Ivory Coast: Hi-tech, cheap — and quiet. The Ivorian resort of Jacqueville just outside Abidjan is betting on solar-powered three-wheelers as it looks to replace traditional but noisy and dirty bush taxis.
“It’s cheaper and relaxing!” says local trader Sandrine Tetelo, of the Chinese-made “Saloni” or “Antara” tricycles, which could eventually spell the end for old-school “woro-woro” four-wheelers as Jacqueville looks to make itself Ivory Coast’s premier eco city.
The mini-cars, 2.7 meters (8.8 feet) long and two meters high, are covered in solar panels each fitted out with six 12-volt batteries, giving the vehicles a range of 140 kilometers (87 miles).
Returning from a visit to China, the solar cars’ promotor Marc Togbe pitched his plan to mayor Joachim Beugre, who was immediately sold.
“We are used to seeing (typically old and beaten up) bush taxis pollute the atmosphere and the environment. We said to ourselves, if we could only replace them by solar trikes,” said Beugre.
“The adventure started in January with two little cars,” added Togbe, who has created a partnership with local businessman Balla Konate.
“I went to China with a friend,” says Konate, “and afterwards I sent four youngsters to Lome for training with a friend who had spoken to me about the project.”
He wants to extend operations to Odienne and Korhogo, towns in the north, the country’s sunniest region.
“Today, a dozen cars are up and running. We are right in the test phase. More and more people are asking for them,” says Beugre, seeing a chance to kill several birds with one solar stone.
Long isolated, his town, nestled between a laguna and the sea, has flourished in terms of real estate and tourism since the 2015 inauguration of a bridge linking Jacqueville to the mainland and cutting transit time to Abidjan to less than an hour.
For the start of the school year in October, Jacqueville plans to bring on stream a 22-seater “solar coach” designed to help deal with “the thorny issue of pupils’ transport.”
Many schoolchildren typically have to travel tens of kilometers from their home village to urban schools.
So far, the trikes have also provided work for around 20 people including drivers and mechanics.
“We’re on the go from six in the morning and finish around 10 or even midnight, weekends too,” says Philippe Aka Koffi, a 24-year-old who has been working as a driver for five months.
“It’s pleasant for doing your shopping more quickly,” says an impressed passenger, Aholia Guy Landry, after riding in a vehicle which can carry four people, driver included.
A big plus is the 100 CFA francs (0.15 euros/$0.18) price of a trip — half a typical downtown “woro-woro” fare — helping to attract between 500 and 1,000 people a day, according to the town hall and promoter.
A switch to solar and durables may appear paradoxical in Jacqueville, however, as the area produces the lion’s share of the country’s gas and oil.
The wells outside the town produce 235 million cubic feet of gas per day, while several foreign firms run pipelines taking oil and gas across the town to feed the refineries at Abidjan.
But the municipality — total budget 140 million CFA francs — sees none of the profits, an issue which has drawn public ire in the past.
The 50-million-CFA trike project is just one piece in a much larger jigsaw which includes the construction of a new eco city on a 240-hectare site among coconut trees.
“It will not be a city for the rich,” insists Beugre, showing off a blueprint replete with cycle paths and a university.
“All social strata who respect the environment will be able to live there,” he adds.
Yet at national level, such plans are conspicuous by their absence.
Ivory Coast, west African leader in electricity production — 75 percent of which comes from thermal energy and the remainder from hydroelectric dams — is targeting an 11-percent share of national consumption for renewables by 2020.
Even though by September the country had burned through barely one single megawatt of solar energy for this year, Beugre is undaunted.
“Our ecological project will go all the way” and “stand up to the power of oil and gas,” says the cowboy-hatted local politician.
“In years to come, we want to ensure that these solar-power machines become the main means of travel in the area.”