NASA Parker Solar Probe delays mission to explore the sun

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

The launch of NASA's $1.5 billion Parker Solar Probe atop a heavy-lift Delta 4 Heavy rocket was scrubbed at the last minute early Saturday because of a technical glitch that could not be resolved before the launch window closed.

The red pressure alarm for the gaseous helium system had gone off. The next launch window opens at 3:31 (9.31am in SA) on Sunday.

NASA's $1.5 billion Parker Solar Probe spacecraft, the size of a auto, aims to plunge into the Sun's sizzling atmosphere and become humanity's first mission to explore a star.

The heat shield is built to withstand radiation equivalent to up to about 500 times the Sun's radiation on Earth.

The car-sized probe is created to give scientists a better understanding of solar wind and geomagnetic storms that risk wreaking chaos on Earth by knocking out the power grid.

The powerful Delta 4 Heavy and a solid-propellant upper stage will provide the energy needed to counteract Earth's 18-mile-per-second orbital velocity, allowing the Parker Solar Probe to fall into the inner solar system.

The corona is not only 300 times hotter than the sun's surface but it also discharges powerful plasma and energetic particles that can unleash geomagnetic space storms that can wreak havoc on Earth by disrupting power grids. The $1.5 million mission is already a week late because of rocket issues.

At Parker Solar Probe's closest approach to the Sun, temperatures on the heat shield will reach almost 1,371 degrees Celsius, but the spacecraft and its instruments will be kept at a relatively comfortable temperature of about 29.4 degrees Celsius. "Some high-energy solar particles accelerate to almost half the speed of light, and we don't know why".

The launch now is planned for Sunday, August 12, from Space Launch Complex-37 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

"It was just a matter of sitting out the deniers for four years until the Venus Mariner 2 spacecraft showed that, by golly, there was a solar wind", Parker said earlier this week.

"With each orbit, we'll be seeing new regions of the Sun's atmosphere and learning things about stellar mechanics that we've wanted to explore for decades", Fox added. When it nears the Sun, the probe will travel rapidly enough to go from NY to Tokyo in one minute - some 688,000kmh - making it the fastest human-made object.

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