Science

Last-Minute Glitch Delays Launch of NASA's Parker Solar Probe

Last-Minute Glitch Delays Launch of NASA's Parker Solar Probe

United States space agency NASA has scrubbed its launch of a new probe, but will make another attempt on Sunday.

The first-ever spacecraft to fly directly towards the Sun was poised to blast off on Saturday on a mission to plunge into our star's sizzling atmosphere and unlock the mysteries of the centre of the solar system.

But then, the launch of NASA's Mariner 2 spacecraft in 1962 - becoming the first robotic spacecraft to make a successful planetary encounter - proved them wrong.

The probe is created to plunge into the Sun's mysterious atmosphere, known as the corona, coming within 3.83 million miles (6.16 million kilometres) of its surface during a seven-year mission. It later updated that the launch was "scrubbed" and a second attempt will be made on Sunday morning.

"Launch teams are working on technical issues and weather is predicted to be 70 per cent chance of favourable conditions", NASA said in a tweet late on Thursday.

The mission is named after famed solar scientist Eugene Parker, and is NASA's first to be named after a living person.

Engineers are taking utmost caution with the $1.5 billion Parker Solar Probe, which Thomas Zurbuchen, head of NASA's science mission directorate, described as one of the agency's most "strategically important missions".

Weighing just 635 kgs, it is a relatively light spacecraft, said Andy Driesman, project manager for the mission at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in the US.




NASA hopes the probe will help determine which parts of the sun are providing the energy source for solar winds and solar particles, and how they accelerate to such high speeds.

"And it needs to be, because it takes an enormous amount of energy to get to our final orbit around the Sun", Driesman added.

The probe is created to plunge into the Sun's mysterious atmosphere, known as the corona, coming within 6.16 million kilometres of its surface during a seven-year mission.

But getting so close to the Sun requires slowing down - for which Parker will use the gravity of our neighbor planet, Venus.

It will get more than seven times closer than the current record holder for a close solar pass, a record set by the Helios 2 spacecraft in 1976.

There was not enough time remaining in the window to recycle.

It is created to withstand heat of up to 1,000 degrees Celsius, speeds of 700,000 kilometres per hour and a journey that will last seven years.


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