Published: Tue, October 30, 2018
Research | By Raquel Erickson

NASA Parker Solar Probe spacecraft sets new record with Sun approach

NASA Parker Solar Probe spacecraft sets new record with Sun approach

Nasa's ambitious Solar Parker Probe (PSP) has just got closer to the solar surface than any other spacecraft in history.

On Monday, the Parker Solar Probe surpassed the record of 43 million kilometres set by Helios-2 back in 1976. And it will keep getting closer to the sun until it flies through the corona, or outer atmosphere, for the first time next week, passing within 15 million miles (24 million kilometers) of the solar surface.

These records will fall again and again over the course of the Parker Solar Probe's $1.5 billion mission, which began August 12 with a liftoff from Florida's Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

"The previous record for closest solar approach was set by the German-American Helios 2 spacecraft in April 1976". The $1.5 billion mission began on August 12, and the spacecraft will spent the next seven years studying the sun at closer and closer distances, enduring extreme heat and radiation.

To withstand the heat of almost 2,500 degrees Fahrenheit, the probe is protected by a special 4.5-inch-thick carbon-composite shield.

The first of these two dozen close encounters is just around the corner: It officially begins Wednesday (Oct. 31), with perihelion (closest solar approach) coming on the night of November 5. Yet, the spacecraft is gradually shrinking its orbit around the sun, with the final objective being 3.83 million miles (6.16 million km) from the surface.

Thanks to this spacecraft, humanity will receive unprecedented observations of its star, opening the door to new answers and understanding of the Sun. The spacecraft should complete the last of its two-dozen close flybys of the Sun in 2025. The sun's gravity will eventually see the probe reach speeds of about 430,000mph.

"It's a proud moment for the team, though we remain focused on our first solar encounter, which begins on October 31", Mr. Driesman said.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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