Purple Gaze: Parker Solar Probe’s Solar Arrays Pass Laser Illumination Testing

NASA’s Parker Solar Probe passed laser illumination testing the week of Nov. 27, 2017. During this test, each segment of the spacecraft’s solar panels was illuminated with lasers to check that they were still electrically connected after the vigorous vibration and acoustic testing completed earlier this fall.

NASA’s Parker Solar Probe is in the midst of intense environmental testing at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, in preparation for its journey to the Sun. Parker Solar Probe’s integration and testing team must check over the spacecraft and systems to make sure everything is still in optimal working condition after these rigorous tests – including a check of the solar arrays, which will provide electrical power to the spacecraft. Credit: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center/Joy Ng
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Parker Solar Probe is in the midst of intense environmental testing at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, in preparation for its journey to the Sun. These tests have simulated the noise and shaking the spacecraft will experience during its launch from Cape Canaveral, Florida, scheduled for July 31, 2018.

Parker Solar Probe’s integration and testing team must check over the spacecraft and systems to make sure everything is still in optimal working condition after experiencing these rigorous conditions – including a check of the solar arrays, which will provide electrical power to the spacecraft.

“This illumination testing verifies that each ‘string’ of solar cells on the array remains electrically connected to the spacecraft after vibration and acoustic testing,” said solar array lead engineer Ed Gaddy of the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Lab, or APL, in Laurel, Maryland. APL is building and will operate the spacecraft.

To make sure that the 44 strings — a series of connected solar cells — on each panel are still well-connected after environmental tests, each string was illuminated individually to ensure that they would still create electricity and transfer it to the spacecraft. Lasers are ideal for this kind of testing, because their narrow beam allows the team to illuminate just one string at a time. The strikingly colored lasers were selected because they were readily available and because the solar cells operate efficiently at that color. But by themselves, these visible lasers are insufficient to power the solar cells, so the team also used infrared lasers for this test. Infrared light is not visible to our eyes and wasn’t captured in these images.

Sound Effects: Parker Solar Probe Passes Acoustic Testing

When NASA’s Parker Solar Probe lifts off on top of a Delta IV Heavy launch vehicle in summer 2018, it will undergo both intense vibration from the physical forces of the rocket engines, as well as acoustic effects from the sound of the engines and the rocket going through the atmosphere.

Verifying the spacecraft and its systems are ready for the rigors of launch is one of the most important parts of testing. On Nov. 3, Parker Solar Probe passed vibration testing at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory, or APL, in Laurel, Maryland, where it was designed and built. On Nov. 14, the spacecraft successfully completed acoustic testing at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, and is now being prepared for further environmental tests.

Goddard’s Acoustic Test Chamber is a 42-foot-tall chamber that uses 6-foot-tall speakers –which can create sound levels of up to 150 decibels – to simulate the extreme noise levels of a rocket launch. While vibration testing focuses on how much the spacecraft will shake during launch, acoustic testing subjects the probe to intense sound forces, like those generated by the Delta IV Heavy. Each type of force affects the spacecraft differently, so both tests are necessary.

“We’re launching on a very large and powerful vehicle, so we need to make sure that the spacecraft, its systems, and its instruments are going survive the launch environment,” said Shelly Conkey, a Parker Solar Probe structural analyst at APL, who led the acoustic test. “We use our data models to predict the forces that will be impacting Parker Solar Probe, and by comprehensive monitoring of the spacecraft during testing, we can ensure that we’re ready to move on to thermal vacuum testing.”

Parker Solar Probe spacecraft will explore the Sun’s outer atmosphere and make critical observations that will answer decades-old questions about the physics of stars. The resulting data will also help improve how we forecast major eruptions on the Sun and subsequent space weather events that can impact life on Earth, as well as satellites and astronauts in space. The mission is named for Eugene N. Parker, whose profound insights into solar physics and processes have helped shape the field of heliophysics.

Members of the integration and testing team roll Parker Solar Probe into the Acoustic Test Chamber at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins APL/Ed Whitman
A member of the integration and testing prepares Parker Solar Probe for environmental testing inside the Acoustic Test Chamber at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins APL/Ed Whitman
Members of the integration and testing team prepare Parker Solar Probe for environmental testing in the Acoustic Test Chamber at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins APL/Ed Whitman
Parker Solar Probe sits in the Acoustic Test Chamber at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins APL/Ed Whitman

Final Rocket Components Arrive in Florida for Parker Solar Probe

A United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy common booster core arrives at the Horizontal Integration Facility at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station for preflight processing. The Delta IV Heavy will launch NASA’s upcoming Parker Solar Probe mission. Photo credit: NASA/Cory Huston

All components of the United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy rocket that will launch NASA’s Parker Solar Probe have arrived for prelaunch processing at Florida’s Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

The Port Common Booster Core of the Delta IV Heavy for the Parker Solar Probe (PSP) Mission is offloaded from the Mariner and transported to the Horizontal Integration Facility. The rocket’s second stage arrived Saturday, Aug. 26, along with the third and final common booster core, which will complete the first stage. The hardware was delivered by ship to Port Canaveral, then transported by truck to the Horizontal Integration Facility at Space Launch Complex 37.

The Parker Solar Probe will perform the closest-ever observations of a star when it travels through the Sun’s atmosphere, called the corona. The probe will rely on measurements and imaging to revolutionize our understanding of the corona and the Sun-Earth connection.

Photos at right, above: The Port Common Booster Core of the Delta IV Heavy for the Parker Solar Probe Mission is offloaded from the Mariner ship for transport to the Horizontal Integration Facility at Space Launch Complex 37. Photo credit: NASA/Ben Smegelsky. Below: Sunrise is reflected in the side of the Mariner ship and in the water of Port Canaveral below. Photo credit: NASA/Cory Huston

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Delta IV Heavy Booster Cores Arrive for Parker Solar Probe

Framed by a series of cabbage palms, a United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy common booster core is transported by truck to Cape Canaveral Air Force Station's Launch Complex 37 Horizontal Processing Facility after arriving at Port Canaveral. The Delta IV Heavy will launch NASA's upcoming Parker Solar Probe mission.
Framed by a series of cabbage palms, a United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy common booster core is transported by truck to Cape Canaveral Air Force Station’s Launch Complex 37 Horizontal Processing Facility after arriving at Port Canaveral. The Delta IV Heavy will launch NASA’s upcoming Parker Solar Probe mission. Photo credits: NASA/Kim Shiflett

A United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy common booster core is transported by truck to Cape Canaveral Air Force Station's Launch Complex 37 Horizontal Processing Facility after arriving at Port Canaveral. The Delta IV Heavy will launch NASA's upcoming Parker Solar Probe mission. The mission will perform the closest-ever observations of a star when it travels through the Sun's atmosphere, called the corona. The probe will rely on measurements and imaging to revolutionize our understanding of the corona and the Sun-Earth connection.Launch preparations are beginning to get off the ground for NASA’s upcoming Parker Solar Probe mission, scheduled to lift off in summer 2018 atop a United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy rocket.

Two of the three common booster cores comprising the rocket’s first stage have arrived on the company’s Mariner ship, which delivered the components to Port Canaveral in Florida. From there the cores were offloaded and transported to the Horizontal Integration Facility at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station’s Space Launch Complex 37.

The Parker Solar Probe will perform the closest-ever observations of a star when it travels through the Sun’s atmosphere, called the corona. The probe will rely on measurements and imaging to revolutionize our understanding of the corona and the Sun-Earth connection.

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