NASA’s Space Probe - PARKER

NASA’s Space Probe - PARKER

Kamaraj IAS Academy | NASA’s Space Probe  - PARKER
  • August 13, 2018, 12:59 pm


NASA’s Parker Solar Probe, mankind’s first mission to ‘touch’ the Sun, has been launched on a seven-year long journey to unlock the mysteries of our star’s fiery outer atmosphere and its effects on space weather.

The car-sized spacecraft will travel directly into the Sun’s atmosphere, about four million miles from its surface - and more than seven times closer than any spacecraft has come before, thanks to its innovative Thermal Protection System. The USD 1.5 billion mission will perform the closest-ever observations of a star when it travels through the Sun’s outer atmosphere, called the corona.


                The Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) will be taking a closer look at the Sun, the source of all Space Weather. Space Weather affects not only our lives here on Earth, but the Earth itself, and everything outside its atmosphere (astronauts and satellites out in space and even the other planets).

In 1958, physicist Eugene Parker published a groundbreaking scientific paper theorizing the existence of the solar wind. The mission is now named after him, and it's the first NASA mission to be named after a living person.

Aim of the mission: To understand the solar variations that influence life on Earth and humanity's technological systems.

What special about the mission?

                 Many satellites share a ground system (place on the ground where they send data and photographs) and have recording systems to save the data collected until they can talk to their ground station. Because SDO has no recording system and will be collecting so much data, the SDO mission has to build its very OWN ground station. For this to be possible, SDO has to be placed in a geosynchronous orbit (GEO). This means that it will rotate at the same speed as the Earth and will always be directly above and in constant communication with its ground station in New Mexico.

What are its applications?

  • SDO will help us understand where the Sun's energy comes from, how the inside of the Sun works, and how energy is stored and released in the Sun's atmosphere. By better understanding the Sun and how it works, we will be able to better predict and better forecast the "weather out in space" providing earlier warnings to protect our astronauts and satellites floating around out there.
  •  We don’t have a strong understanding of the mechanisms that drive that wind toward.That's where Parker Solar Probe comes in. The spacecraft carries a lineup of instruments to study the Sun both remotely and in situ, or directly. Together, the data from these state-of-the-art instruments should help scientists answer three foundational questions about our star.

1.The mystery of the acceleration of the solar wind, the Sun's constant outflow of  material.

2.Second, scientists hope to learn the secret of the corona's enormously high temperatures. The visible surface of the Sun is about 10,000 F – but, for reasons we don't fully understand, the corona is hundreds of times hotter, spiking up to several million degrees F. This is counterintuitive, as the Sun's energy is produced at its core.

3.Finally, Parker Solar Probe's instruments should reveal the mechanisms at work behind the acceleration of solar energetic particles, which can reach speeds more than half as fast as the speed of light as they rocket away from the Sun. Such particles can interfere with satellite electronics, especially for satellites outside of Earth's magnetic field. 

The instruments in the probe used to measure:

There are four suites of instruments

The FIELDS suite-measures the electric and magnetic fields around the spacecraft.       captures waves and turbulence in the inner heliosphere .

The WISPR instrument, [Wide-Field Imager for Parker Solar Probe], is the only imaging instrument aboard the spacecraft. WISPR takes images from of structures like coronal mass ejections,jets and other ejecta from the Sun to help link what’s happening in the large-scale coronal structure.

SWEAP (short for Solar Wind Electrons Alphas and Protons Investigation), uses two complementary instruments to gather data. The SWEAP suite of instruments counts the most abundant particles in the solar wind — electrons, protons and helium ions — and measures such properties as velocity, density, and temperature to improve our understanding of the solar wind and coronal plasma.

Finally, the IS?IS suite – short for Integrated Science Investigation of the Sun, and including ?, the symbol for the Sun, in its acronym – measures particles across a wide range of energies. By measuring electrons, protons and ions, IS?IS will understand the particles’ lifecycles — where they came from, how they became accelerated and how they move out from the Sun through interplanetary space.

Spacecraft's daring journey -three main breakthroughs:

The cutting-edge heat shield, the solar array cooling system, and the advanced fault management system.

1.“The Thermal Protection System (the heat shield)  allows the spacecraft to operate at about room temperature.

2.The solar array cooling system allows the solar arrays to produce power under the intense thermal load from the Sun and the fault management system protects the spacecraft during the long periods of time when the spacecraft can’t communicate with the Earth. 

3.Parker Solar Probe's fault management system protects the spacecraft during the long periods of time when it can't communicate with Earth. If it detects a problem, Parker Solar Probe will self-correct its course and pointing to ensure that its scientific instruments remain cool and functioning during the long periods when the spacecraft is out of contact with Earth.