Last-minute technical problem delays NASA’s flight to sun


Parker Solar Probe is the fourth mission this year for NASA's Launch Services Program, which is responsible for launch service acquisition, integration, analysis and launch management for each mission. Engineers tried to identifiy the problem, but the launch window - when a spacecraft can take off in the right direction due to the Earth's rotation - closed before they could make progress.

The probe is created to plunge into the Sun's mysterious atmosphere, known as the corona, coming within 3.83 million miles (6.16 million kilometres) of its surface during a seven-year mission.

Saturday's launch-stopping anomaly came after a second issue during today's attempt.

NASA will try again early Sunday to launch the Delta IV rocket, which is carrying the Parker Solar Probe. The sun's gravity will accelerate the spacecraft to record-breaking speeds during such encounters; at its fastest, the Parker Solar Probe will go about 430,000 miles per hour (690,000 km/h), NASA officials said.

Weighing just 635 kgs, it is a relatively light spacecraft, said Andy Driesman, project manager for the mission at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in the US.

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Parker, now 91 and eager to watch the craft blast into space, said some people doubted his initial theory.

The spacecraft eventually will run out of fuel and, no longer be able to keep its heat shield pointed toward the Sun, will burn and break apart - except perhaps for the rugged heat shield.

"We will also be listening for plasma waves that we know flow around when particles move", Fox added.

Reaching the required speed means the Parker Solar Probe needs one of the most powerful rockets ever built.

It will get more than seven times closer than the current record holder for a close solar pass, a record set by the Helios 2 spacecraft in 1976.

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In an orbit this close to the Sun, the real challenge is to keep the spacecraft from burning up.

It said "there was not enough time remaining in the window to recycle".

The heat shield is made of a 4.5-inch thick carbon composite foam material between two carbon fibre face sheets.

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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