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Parker Solar Probe launched on sun-study mission

Parker Solar Probe launched on sun-study mission

NASA hopes the probe will help determine which parts of the sun are providing the energy source for solar winds and solar particles, and how they accelerate to such high speeds.

Unlike many planetary exploration missions, which primarily orbit the planet itself, the Parker probe will be swooping closer and closer to the sun by way of an elliptical orbit that will include seven "gravity-assist" flybys of Venus. Among the puzzlers: Why is the corona hundreds of times hotter than the surface of the sun and why is the sun's atmosphere continually expanding and accelerating, as Parker accurately predicted in 1958?

"This space weather has direct influence, not always positive, on our technology in space, our spacecraft, it disrupts our communications, it creates a hazardous environment for astronauts and in the most extreme cases can actually affect our power grids here on the Earth", said Alex Young, associate director of NASA's heliophysics program.

NASA on Sunday launched its ambitious Parker Solar Probe a day later than it was scheduled to after multiple checks exhausted the launch window.

By the time Parker gets to its 22nd, 23rd and 24th orbits of the sun in 2024 and 2025, it will be even deeper into the corona and traveling at a record-breaking 430,000 mph (690,000 kilometers per hour).

Over the next seven years, Parker will fly directly through the Sun's roasting hot outer atmosphere in a bid to unlock some of the solar system's greatest secrets.

Thousands of spectators turned up at the launch site on Sunday, including Eugene Parker, the 91-year-old astrophysicist the spacecraft is named after.

SpaceX Will Fly Astronauts Before Boeing
On the first operational mission to the International Space Station, Sunita Williams and Josh Cassada would fly for Boeing . SpaceX's Post-Certification Mission for the Crew Dragon Team Victor Glover (left) and Mike Hopkins (right).

The launch was called off at the last minute on Saturday after a gaseous helium pressure red alarm emerged that the scientists did not have enough time to troubleshoot.

"I'm in awe", Zurbuchen said. "We are in for some learning over the next several years", Parker told NASA television.

"Three, two, one, zero, and liftoff!"

Trailing a plume of fiery exhaust visible for scores of miles around, the huge 1.6-million-pound rocket majestically climbed away from launch complex 37B at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, arcing away on an easterly trajectory over the Atlantic Ocean.

Finally, after two firings of the second-stage engine, the Parker Solar Probe and its Northrup Grumman solid-fuel upper stage were released from the Delta 4. "The materials didn't exist to allow us to do it". That will set up the first solar encounter in November.

Parker will enter the Sun's atmosphere to sample conditions around our star, reaching as far as 6.16 million km from the Sun's scorching surface.

"So we're already in a region of very, very interesting coronal area", Fox said.

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