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

Olive Hawkins
August 11, 2018

Over the course of its mission, the Parker Solar Probe will orbit the sun 24 times while being subjected to extreme heat and radiation, with temperatures expected to reach 1,377C, almost hot enough to melt steel.

"The team received a gaseous helium reg pressure alarm that kicked them out", said Mic Woltman with NASA's Launch Services Program.

NASA and rocket-builder United Launch Alliance plan to make another attempt to get the long-awaited mission off the ground Sunday at 3:31 a.m. EDT (GMT-4), the opening of a 65-minute window, assuming the problem is corrected by then.

Parker Solar Probe will make its journey all the way to the Sun's atmosphere, or corona - closer to the Sun than any spacecraft in history.

Saturday's launch countdown was halted with just one-minute, 55 seconds remaining, keeping the Delta IV (four) rocket at Cape Canaveral, Florida, with the Parker Solar Probe.

During its nominal mission lifetime of just under 7 years, Parker Solar Probe will complete 24 orbits of the Sun - reaching within 3.8 million miles (roughly 61,15,508 km) of the Sun's surface at closest approach.

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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. The $1.5 million mission is already a week late because of rocket issues.

"We are ready. We have the ideal payload".

The tools on board will measure the expanding corona and continually flowing atmosphere known as the solar wind, which solar physicist Eugene Parker first described in 1958.

Parker, now 91, recalled that at first some people did not believe in his theory.

Parker said he was "impressed" by the Parker Solar Probe, calling it "a very complex machine".

Scientists have wanted to build a spacecraft like this for more than 60 years, but only in recent years did the heat shield technology advance enough to be capable of protecting sensitive instruments, according to Fox.

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