It will be the fastest-ever human-made object. The probe will face “brutal” heat and radiation during an epic journey that will take it to within 3.8 million miles of the Sun’s surface, according to the space agency. NASA plans to use the data it beams back to figure out how we can better prepare for solar winds, which are streams of charged particles emitted by the corona, which could change satellites’ orbits, interfere with their instruments and even affect power grids on Earth.
Before the Parker Solar Probe can soar as close as 3.83 million miles above the sun’s surface it first has to spend seven years encircling the sun again and again. Parker will be able to withstand the sun’s intense heat thanks to a heat shield made of carbon composite foam and plates. It has an effective cooling system that can keep its arrays, instruments and mechanisms cool and functional operating at room temperature. NASA will launch Parker on top of a United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy rocket from Cape Canaveral in Florida. It takes 55 times more energy to go to the Sun than it does to go to Mars. Parker was designed and built by the Applied Physics Laboratory at Johns Hopkins University. The project was proposed in 1958 to a brand-new NASA, and “60 years later, and it’s becoming a reality,” said project manager Andy Driesman.