NASA spacecraft breaks record for coming closest to Sun

Mindy Sparks
November 2, 2018

It was only yesterday that NASA announced its do-it-all star-studying machine has gotten closer to the Sun than any spacecraft before it, and now the probe has broken another record.

Since its launch on August 12 from Florida's Kennedy Space Center, the probe has passed Venus and is heading closer to the Sun. Again, it broke a record set by Helios 2.

"It's been just 78 days since Parker Solar Probe launched, and we've now come closer to our star than any other spacecraft in history", stated Andy Driesman, the project manager behind the Parker Solar Probe.

According to NASA, as of 1:04 p.m. EDT on the 29th, the probe is now closer than 42.73 million km (26.55 million miles) from the Sun. It will surpass Helios-2's speed record of 153,454 miles per hour (247,000 kilometres per hour), relative to the sun. The Parker Solar Probe will repeatedly set and break its own record before making a final close approach of about 3.83 million miles away from the surface of the sun in 2024. The spacecraft will have 24 close encounters over the next seven years.

That's a speed that totally blows the Helios 2 probe out of the water, but the Parker spacecraft is really just getting started. By 2024, the spacecraft is expected reach speeds in excess of 692,000 kilometres per hour (430,000 miles per hour, or 0.0006 percent the speed of light).

An artist's sketch of the Parker Solar Probe approaching the sun.

The team periodically measures the spacecraft's precise speed and position using NASA's Deep Space Network, or DSN. As it gets nearer to the star's surface, the probe will face formidable heat and radiation, which it will fend off with a manoeuvrable shield always pointed toward the flaming ball of fire at the centre of our Solar System.

Parker Solar Probe will begin its first solar encounter on October 31, continuing to fly closer and closer to the Sun's surface until it reaches its first perihelion - the point closest to the Sun - at about 10:28 p.m. EST on November 5.

The Parker Solar Probe is the first NASA aircraft to be named after a living astrophysicist; 91-year-old Eugene Parker, who proposed the notion of solar wind. It could also help researchers better understand space weather, such as solar storms that have the ability to cripple the Earth's power grids.

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