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.


‘Stronger than ever’: India set for fresh Moon launch attempt

Updated 21 July 2019
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‘Stronger than ever’: India set for fresh Moon launch attempt

  • The South Asian nation is bidding to become just the fourth nation to land a spacecraft on the Moon
  • The first launch attempt was scrubbed just under an hour before the scheduled lift-off because of what authorities described as a “technical snag”

SRIHARIKOTA, India: India will make a second attempt Monday to send a landmark spacecraft to the Moon after an apparent fuel leak forced last week’s launch to be aborted.
The South Asian nation is bidding to become just the fourth nation — after Russia, the United States and China — to land a spacecraft on the Moon.
The mission comes 50 years after Neil Armstrong became the first person to step foot on the moon, an occasion celebrated by space enthusiasts globally on Saturday
The fresh launch attempt for Chandrayaan-2 — Moon Chariot 2 in some Indian languages including Sanskrit and Hindi — has been scheduled for 2:43 p.m. (0913 GMT) on Monday, the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) said.
“Chandrayaan 2 is ready to take a billion dreams to the Moon — now stronger than ever before!” it said on Thursday.
The first launch attempt was scrubbed just under an hour before the scheduled lift-off because of what authorities described as a “technical snag.” Local media, citing ISRO officials, said that issue was a fuel leak.
The agency tweeted Saturday that a rehearsal for the launch was completed successfully.
Chandrayaan-2 will be launched atop a Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV) MkIII, India’s most powerful rocket.
Experts said setbacks were to be expected in such missions given their complexity, and that it was more prudent to delay the launch instead of taking risks that may jeopardize the project.
“In such an ambitious and prestigious mission like Chandrayaan, one cannot take a chance even if a small flaw is detected,” Rajeswari Pillai Rajagopalan, head of space policy at the New Delhi think tank the Observer Research Foundation, told AFP.
Former NASA scientist Kumar Krishen said India’s space agency should be praised for taking on ambitious projects like Chandrayaan-2.
“We should keep in mind that space exploration is risky as many systems have failed in the past and many lives lost,” he told AFP.
Aside from propelling India into rarefied company among spacefaring nations, Chandrayaan-2 also stands out because of its low cost.
About $140 million has been spent on preparations for the mission, a much smaller price tag compared with similar missions by other countries — whose costs often run into billions of dollars.
Chandrayaan-2, and India’s space program as a whole, are a source of national pride in India.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has outlined an ambitious plan to launch a crewed space mission by 2022, and India hopes to seek out commercial satellite and orbiting deals.
The new mission comes almost 11 years after the launch of India’s first lunar mission — Chandrayaan-1 — which orbited the Moon and searched for water.
The rocket carrying Chandrayaan-2 will launch from the Satish Dhawan Space Center at Sriharikota, an island off the coast of the southern state of Andhra Pradesh.
The spacecraft will carry an orbiter, lander and a rover, which has been almost entirely designed and made in India.
The orbiter is planned to circle the Moon for about one year, imaging the surface and studying the atmosphere.
The lander, named Vikram, will head to the surface near the lunar South Pole carrying the rover. Once it touches down, the rover will carry out experiments while being controlled remotely by ISRO scientists.
It is expected to work for one lunar day, the equivalent of 14 Earth days, and will look for signs of water and “a fossil record of the early solar system.”