NASA poised to launch first Sun-skimming spaceship

Nasa to launch $1.5 billion spacecraft to ‘touch’ the sun

The Parker Solar Probe will fly closer to the Sun than any man-made object ever before.

NASA said in a statement: "Parker Solar Probe, protected by a first-of-its-kind heat shield and other innovative technologies, will provide unprecedented information about our Sun, where changing conditions can spread out into the solar system to affect Earth and other worlds".

Understanding how the corona works will help scientists anticipate unsafe space weather storms, which can disrupt the power grid on Earth.

Brad Tucker, of the Australian National University's Research School of Astronomy and Astrophysics, said: 'Understanding the activity of the sun and predicting weather from it is crucial if we really want to have humans explore space more, including working and living on the moon and Mars'.

The corona is a "very odd, unfamiliar environment for us".

One of the reasons scientists are sending the probe is to learn about the Sun's atmosphere and the weird property it exhibits - the heat from the star gets more intense further away from its surface. Mission leaders say this may sound extremely impressive, but it's really particularly unsafe, given the conditions prevailing in that place, so there's a huge chance that $ 1.5 billion will be thrown into the ring. The spacecraft eventually will run out of fuel and, no longer able to keep its heat shield pointed toward the sun, will burn and break apart - except perhaps for the rugged heat shield.

The craft is meant to orbit the Sun 24 times until late 2025, each orbit taking 88 days.

The spacecraft is expected to make its closest approach to the sun in the year 2024, as it flies 3.9 million miles above the solar surface.

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NASA calls this mismatch "the coronal heating problem", and hopes the Parker Solar Probe will solve the mystery of why the corona reaches temperatures of up to 10 million degrees Fahrenheit.

"There are missions that are studying the solar wind, but we're going to get to the birthplace", Fox said.

It's created to take solar punishment like never before, thanks to its revolutionary heat shield that's capable of withstanding 2,500 degrees Fahrenheit. A series of instruments on board the spacecraft will measure the magnetic and electric fields, plasma waves and high energy particles.

The project was proposed in 1958 to a brand-new NASA, and "60 years later, and it's becoming a reality", said project manager Andy Driesman, also of Johns Hopkins, which designed and built the spacecraft.

"The goal is to have the instruments on all the time but the prime science gathering for us is about 11 days", she told reporters ahead of the launch.

The NASA launch window is scheduled for exactly 3.33am EDT (8.33am BST), on Saturday, August 11.

Awaiting liftoff, the car-sized probe is already packed on to the Delta IV-Heavy rocket at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

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