On Saturday, Jan. 27, NASA’s Parker Solar Probe began space environment testing, starting with the air being pumped out of the 40-foot-tall thermal vacuum chamber at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland where the spacecraft is currently housed. The chamber – officially called the Space Environment Simulator – creates a nearly identical replication of the conditions the spacecraft will face during its mission to the Sun.
After the air was slowly removed from the chamber over the course of five hours, cooling tubes behind the chamber walls were chilled to -320 degrees Fahrenheit (-196 Celsius).
Engineers will cycle the chamber’s temperatures from hot to cold to ensure Parker Solar Probe will be prepared for operations around the Sun. During this cycling, the spacecraft’s systems will undergo testing that mimics critical events that occur during its planned seven-year mission in space. The tests are designed to make sure all the systems and components of Parker Solar Probe are operating as designed.
This space environment testing will continue for about seven weeks. Parker Solar Probe will emerge from the vacuum chamber in mid-March for final tests before setting off for Florida, where it will launch from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center on July 31, 2018.
On Wednesday, Jan. 17, NASA’s Parker Solar Probe was lowered into the 40-foot-tall thermal vacuum chamber at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. The spacecraft will remain in the chamber for about seven weeks, coming out in mid-March for final tests and packing before heading to Florida. Parker Solar Probe is scheduled to launch from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center on July 31, 2018, on a Delta IV Heavy launch vehicle.
The thermal vacuum chamber simulates the harsh conditions that Parker Solar Probe will experience on its journey through space, including near-vacuum conditions and severe hot and cold temperatures.
“This is the final major environmental test for the spacecraft, and we’re looking forward to this milestone,” said Annette Dolbow, Parker Solar Probe’s integration and test lead from the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Lab. “The results we’ll get from subjecting the probe to the extreme temperatures and conditions in the chamber, while operating our systems, will let us know that we’re ready for the next phase of our mission – and for launch.”
During thermal balance testing, the spacecraft will be cooled to -292 degrees Fahrenheit. Engineers will then gradually raise the spacecraft’s temperature to test the thermal control of the probe at various set points and with various power configurations.
Next, thermal cycling testing will transition the spacecraft from cold to hot and back again several times, simulating the conditions it will experience many times during its mission to the Sun. The Parker Solar Probe team will also test operation of the spacecraft’s hardware at both hot and cold plateaus, as well as perform a mission simulation.