Parker Solar Probe Attached to ULA Delta IV Heavy, Prepped for Mission to the Sun

An artist rendition of NASA's Parker Solar Probe observing the sun.
An artist rendition of NASA’s Parker Solar Probe observing the Sun. Image credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins APL/Steve Gribben

NASA’s Parker Solar Probe, secured inside its payload fairing, was moved July 30, 2018, from nearby Astrotech Space Operations in Titusville, Florida, to Space Launch Complex 37 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. The following day, the spacecraft was lifted and attached to the top of the United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy rocket in the Vertical Integration Facility.

Parker Solar Probe is being prepared for its launch, on its mission to “touch” the Sun. The spacecraft will travel directly into the Sun’s atmosphere, about 4 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 mission will perform the closest-ever observations of a star when it travels through the Sun’s outer atmosphere, called the corona. The mission will rely on measurements and imaging to revolutionize our understanding of the corona and how processes there ultimately affect near-Earth space.

Parker Solar Probe Prepares to Head Toward Launch Pad

NASA’s Parker Solar Probe has cleared the final procedures in the clean room before its move to the launch pad, where it will be integrated onto its launch vehicle, a United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy.

A spacecraft sits atop a platform with a large metal fairing dangling nearby, ready to encapsulate it.
Parker Solar Probe was encapsulated within its fairing on July 16, 2018, in preparation for its move to Space Launch Complex 37. Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins APL/Ed Whitman

Download images in HD formats from NASA’s Scientific Visualization Studio. 

On July 11, 2018, the spacecraft was lifted and mated to the third stage rocket motor, a Star 48BV from Northrop Grumman. In addition to using the largest operational launch vehicle, the Delta IV Heavy, Parker Solar Probe will use a third stage rocket to gain the speed needed to reach the Sun, which takes 55 times more energy than reaching Mars.

A spacecraft is held above a platform with people in clean suits surrounding.
Parker Solar Probe is lifted and lowered toward the third-stage rocket motor. Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins APL/Ed Whitman

On July 16, the spacecraft was encapsulated within its 62.7-foot fairing in preparation for the move from Astrotech Space Operations in Titusville, Florida, to Space Launch Complex 37 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, where it will be integrated onto the Delta IV Heavy. Parker Solar Probe’s launch is targeted for Aug. 11, 2018.

A spacecraft sits inside half of the fairing that will encase it during its launch to space.
Parker Solar Probe sits inside half of its fairing. Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins APL/Ed Whitman

By Geoff Brown

Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Lab

Parker Solar Probe Launch Targeted for Aug. 11

Illustration of NASA’s Parker Solar Probe approaching the Sun.
Illustration of NASA’s Parker Solar Probe approaching the Sun. Image credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins APL/Steve Gribben

NASA and its mission partners are targeting Aug. 11 for the launch of the Parker Solar Probe mission to the Sun. The 45-minute launch window will open at 3:48 a.m. EDT. During final inspections following the encapsulation of the spacecraft, a small strip of foam was found inside the fairing and additional time is needed for inspection.

The spacecraft will launch on a United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy rocket from Space Launch Complex 37 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

Parker Solar Probe Launch No Earlier Than Aug. 6, 2018

Parker Solar Probe in Astrotech Space Operations in Titusville, Florida.
Parker Solar Probe sits in a clean room on July 6, 2018, at Astrotech Space Operations in Titusville, Florida, after the installation of its heat shield. Photo credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins APL/Ed Whitman

NASA now is targeting launch of the Parker Solar Probe no earlier than Aug. 6, 2018. Additional time was needed to evaluate the configuration of a cable clamp on the payload fairing. Teams have modified the configuration and encapsulation operations have continued. Teams also have successfully repaired a leak in the purge ground support tubing on the third stage rocket motor, which was discovered during final spacecraft processing late last week. The satellite will launch on a United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy rocket from Space Launch Complex 37 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

Update to Media Day: Parker Solar Probe Undergoing Additional Processing

Two people in bunny suits kneel in front of a solar panel attached to a spacecraft while operating a purple laser in the dark.
After installation of the solar arrays on May 31, 2018, Parker Solar Probe team members use a laser to illuminate the solar cells and verify that they can create electricity and transfer it to the spacecraft. Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins APL/Ed Whitman

Teams require additional time for processing NASA’s Parker Solar Probe spacecraft after discovering a minor tubing leak in the ground support equipment during final processing. The tubing is being repaired, and the spacecraft is healthy. As always, operations take precedence during launch and we needed to cancel media day activities on July 13, 2018. NASA will make every effort to provide updated imagery of the spacecraft prior to encapsulation.

Parker Solar Probe is the agency’s mission to touch the Sun. It is scheduled to launch on a United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy no earlier than Aug. 4, 2018, from Space Launch Complex 37 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

Revised Launch Date Targeted for Parker Solar Probe

NASA and the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory are now targeting launch of the agency’s Parker Solar Probe spacecraft no earlier than Aug. 4, 2018. Originally scheduled to launch on July 31, additional time is needed to accommodate further software testing of spacecraft systems. The Parker Solar Probe will launch on a United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy rocket from Space Launch Complex 37 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

Parker Solar Probe will fly closer to the Sun’s surface than any spacecraft before it, facing brutal heat and radiation conditions and ultimately providing humanity with the first-ever samplings of a star’s corona.

Power Up: Solar Arrays Installed on NASA’s Mission to Touch the Sun

Two people in bunny suits stand on either end of a solar array and examine it.
Members of the Parker Solar Probe team examine and align one of the spacecraft’s two solar arrays on May 31, 2018. Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins APL/Ed Whitman

NASA’s Parker Solar Probe depends on the Sun, not just as an object of scientific investigation, but also for the power that drives its instruments and systems. On Thursday, May 31, 2018, the spacecraft’s solar arrays were installed and tested. These arrays will power all of the spacecraft’s systems, including the suites of scientific instruments studying the solar wind and the Sun’s corona as well as the Solar Array Cooling System (SACS) that will protect the arrays from the extreme heat at the Sun.

Two people in bunny suits kneel in front of a solar panel attached to a spacecraft while operating a purple laser in the dark.
After installation of the solar arrays on May 31, 2018, Parker Solar Probe team members use a laser to illuminate the solar cells and verify that they can create electricity and transfer it to the spacecraft. Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins APL/Ed Whitman

“Unlike solar-powered missions that operate far from the Sun and are focused only on generating power from it, we need to manage the power generated along with the substantial heat that comes from being so close to the Sun,” said Andy Driesman, project manager from the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland. “When we’re out around the orbit of Venus, we fully extend the arrays to get the power we need. But when we’re near the Sun, we tuck the arrays back until only a small wing is exposed, and that portion is enough to provide needed electrical power.”

A spacecraft sits in a clean room with a solar array installed on the side.
Parker Solar Probe’s two solar arrays – one of which is shown here on the spacecraft – were installed on the spacecraft on May 31, 2018. Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins APL/Ed Whitman

The solar arrays are cooled by a gallon of water that circulates through tubes in the arrays and into large radiators at the top of the spacecraft. They are just over three and a half feet (1.12 meters) long and nearly two and a half feet (0.69 meters) wide. Mounted on motorized arms, the arrays will retract almost all of their surface behind the Thermal Protection System – the heat shield – when the spacecraft is close to the Sun. The solar array installation marks some of the final preparation and testing of Parker Solar Probe leading up to the mission’s July 31 launch date.

Download these images in HD formats from NASA’s Scientific Visualization Studio. 

By Justyna Surowiec

Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory

A view from the bottom of a solar panel, looking up as a person in a bunny suit works on the top of the panel.
A member of the Parker Solar Probe team examines one of the spacecraft’s two solar arrays on May 31, 2018. Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins APL/Ed Whitman

More Than 1.1 Million Names Installed on NASA’s Parker Solar Probe

A person in a clean suit places a plaque on the side of the Parker Solar Probe spacecraft, while three other clean-suited people look on.
A memory card containing 1,137,202 names submitted by the public to travel to the Sun was installed on Parker Solar Probe on May 18, 2018. Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins APL/Ed Whitman

Throughout its seven-year mission, NASA’s Parker Solar Probe will swoop through the Sun’s atmosphere 24 times, getting closer to our star than any spacecraft has gone before. The spacecraft will carry more than scientific instruments on this historic journey — it will also hold more than 1.1 million names submitted by the public to go to the Sun.

“Parker Solar Probe is going to revolutionize our understanding of the Sun, the only star we can study up close,” said Nicola Fox, project scientist for Parker Solar Probe at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Lab in Laurel, Maryland. “It’s fitting that as the mission undertakes one of the most extreme journeys of exploration ever tackled by a human-made object, the spacecraft will also carry along the names of so many people who are cheering it on its way.”

Read the full story on nasa.gov.

Solar Power: Parker Solar Probe Tests Its Arrays

NASA’s Parker Solar Probe gets its power from the Sun, so the solar arrays that collect energy from our star need to be in perfect working order. This month, members of the mission team tested the arrays at Astrotech Space Operations in Titusville, Florida, to ensure the system performs as designed and provides power to the spacecraft during its historic mission to the Sun.

A person wearing a clean suit sits in a dark room looking a solar panel, on which all the cells are glowing red.
Andrew Gerger of the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory inspects one of NASA’s Parker Solar Probe’s two solar panels by passing current through the array, which causes it to glow red and allows him to examine each individual solar cell. The testing occurred on May 2, 2018, at Astrotech Space Operations in Titusville, Florida. Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins APL/Ed Whitman
Two people in clean suits shine a purple laser on a solar panel.
Andrew Gerger of the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory and Rick Stall of Newforge Technologies check and adjust a purple laser using a replica of a solar array wing on May 3, 2018. Later, when the solar arrays are attached to the spacecraft, the laser will be used to illuminate each string of cells on the array to confirm the string is connected and will provide power to the spacecraft. Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins APL/Ed Whitman

Parker Solar Probe is powered by two solar arrays, totaling just under 17 square feet (1.55 square meters) in area. They are mounted to motorized arms that will retract almost all of their surface behind the Thermal Protection System – the heat shield – when the spacecraft is close to the Sun.

By Geoff Brown

Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory

Download these photos in HD formats from NASA’s Scientific Visualization Studio. 

A person in a clean suit faces a computer with a solar array behind him.
Andrew Gerger, an engineer from the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory, prepares to conduct an inspection of one of the solar arrays from NASA’s Parker Solar Probe on May 2, 2018, at Astrotech Space Operations in Titusville, Florida. Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins APL/Ed Whitman
Two solar arrays it on racks in a clean room.
NASA’s Parker Solar Probe is powered by two solar arrays, shown here on May 2, 2018, at Astrotech Space Operations in Titusville, Florida. Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins APL/Ed Whitman

Faraday cup bests Sun simulator

You don’t get to swim in the Sun’s atmosphere unless you can prove you belong there. And Parker Solar Probe’s Faraday cup, a key sensor on the spacecraft, earned its stripes on April 19 by enduring testing in a homemade contraption designed to simulate the Sun.

The cup will scoop up and examine the solar wind as the probe passes closer to the Sun than any previous human-made object. In order to confirm the cup will survive the extreme heat and light of the Sun’s corona, researchers previously tortured a model of the Faraday cup at temperatures exceeding 3,000 degrees Fahrenheit, courtesy of the Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s Plasma Arc Lamp. The cup, built from refractory metals and sapphire crystal insulators, exceeded expectations.

But the final test took place on April 19, in a homemade contraption Kasper and his research team call the Solar Environment Simulator. While being blasted with roughly 10 kilowatts of light on its surface—enough to heat a sheet of metal to 1,800 degrees Fahrenheit in seconds—the Faraday cup model ran through its paces, successfully scanning a simulated stream of solar wind.

Justin Kasper, University of Michigan associate professor of climate and space sciences and engineering, is principal investigator for Parker Solar Probe’s Solar Wind Electrons Alphas and Protons (SWEAP) investigation.

Read the full story from the University of Michigan.

By Jim Lynch

University of Michigan