NASA spacecraft will aim straight for sun next year

Here comes the sun NASA's first mission to the giant star set for 2018

Nasa has announced a historic mission that will send a probe directly into the Sun's atmosphere. Parker theorized that the sun's corona was several hundred times hotter than the visible solar surface (the photosphere) and the development - and observational confirmation - of the theory of the corona's supersonic expansion into interplanetary space as a "solar wind".

The probe will orbit within 6.2 million kilometres of the Sun's surface and withstand temperatures of almost 1,377 degrees Celsius.

For the first time, NASA has made plans to launch a spacecraft that will travel to the sun's atmosphere.

Due to launch in 2018, the Parker Solar Probe will orbit within 6.2 million kilometres of the sun's surface, more than seven times closer than any spacecraft has gone before.

Speaking at the University of Chicago, mission project scientist Nicola Fox said the Parker Solar Probe will swoop through the corona - the sun's atmosphere - where temperatures can beup to 3 million degrees Fahrenheit.

Data obtained in the pursuit of answering those questions will help back on Earth, too, by improving our ability to forecast space weather (triggered by the sun's activity), which impacts satellite functionality and affects astronauts.

At its closest point to the sun, the spacecraft's 12-centimeter-thick solar shields will need to withstand temperatures of 1300 degrees Celsius.

Dr Eugene Parker was presented with the first scale model of Parker Solar Probe during the Nasa announcement. How much do you know about the sun?

Traveling at a speed of 430,000 miles per hour, the spacecraft will move fast - like going from New York City to Tokyo in less than a minute. The solar wind is the term for the high heated microscopic particles that jettison off the star and careen toward Earth at thousands of miles per second.

"SPP will perform its scientific investigations in a hazardous region of intense heat and solar radiation", noted NASA, on the SPP website.

Initially called Solar Probe Plus, the mission was renamed as "Parker Solar Probe" after the astrophysicist Eugene Parker, 89, a professor emeritus at the University of Chicago.

The Parker Solar Probe (PSP), or Solar Probe Plus, is scheduled to launch in the summer of 2018.

He said that as a theoretician, he greatly admired the scientists who have been able to translate the probe concept into reality: "Hurray for solar probe", he said.

"One would like to have some more detailed measurements of what s going on in the solar wind", he said. It will start out on the outside of the corona and work its way in over the next few years, culminating with its closest flyby in December 2024, which would put it at a distance just 4 times the Sun's diameter.

The probe is now being built and tested and will go through final testing by the end of 2017.

Robin Seemangal has been reporting from the newsroom at NASA's Kennedy Space Center for the last two years for the Observer with by-lines also in Popular Science and Wired Magazine.

The Parker Solar Probe is the first NASA spacecraft to be named for a living person.

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