NASA Parker Solar Probe Launch

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Probably the most epic S.T.E.A.M. Saturday to date, last week we covered the NASA Parker Solar Probe launch on its mission to touch the sun. We also got to tour some great NASA facilities in Cape Canaveral and join in the press conference with project leads. 

This S.T.E.A.M. Saturday we will chat about the Parker Solar Probe to learn about the science that it plans to collect, along with the science behind a probe that needs to get within 3.8 million miles of our star without being destroyed. 

Here is a video about all of the highlights from the trip, including parts of the Parker Solar Probe launch on the Delta IV Heavy rocket. 

Parker Solar Probe Mission – Heliophysics

Heliophysics is the study of the Sun (our star) and its effects on our Solar System.

The primary science goals for this mission are to trace how energy and heat move through the solar corona and to explore what accelerates the solar wind as well as solar energetic particles. Parker Solar Probe will carry four instrument suites designed to study magnetic fields, plasma, and energetic particles, and image the solar wind. 

Solar wind is a stream of charged particles released from the upper atmosphere of the Sun, called the corona. Some of the things that are caused by solar wind are the aurora (northern and southern lights), the plasma tails of comets that always point away from the Sun, and geomagnetic storms that can change the direction of magnetic field lines.

This space weather can change the orbits of satellites, shorten their lifetimes, or interfere with onboard electronics. The Parker SOlar Probe will help gather information about these events and hopefully prevent damage to satellites in the future. 

Solar wind reaches far out into space past Earth, and as NASA sends more probes and astronauts deeper into space, they will have a better understanding of these conditions. 

Park Solar Probe

Specs about the Parker Solar Probe

For the Parker Solar Probe to collect data, the spacecraft and instruments need to be protected from the Sun’s heat that reaches nearly 2,500 F (1,377 C). They do this with a 4.5-inch-thick (11.43 cm) carbon-composite shield, which will need to withstand the extreme temperatures. In the video above you can see a chunk of this reinforced carbon-carbon being heated to a near red hot glowing and everyone putting their hands on the other side to feel it. It was completely cool on the other side. 

Parker Solar Probe Instruments: -Check out this link to learn more and watch videos of all of the instruments in depth. 

  • FIELDS – captures the scale and shape of electric and magnetic fields in the Sun’s atmosphere
  • WISPER – Wide-Field Imager for Parker Solar Probe – only imaging instrument aboard the spacecraft
  • SWEAP – Solar Wind Electrons Alphas and Protons investigation
  • ISʘIS – Integrated Science Investigation of the Sun — ISʘIS, pronounced “ee-sis” and including the symbol for the Sun in its acronym

Who is Parker?

Eugene Newman Parker – In the mid-1950s, a young physicist named Eugene Parker proposed a number of concepts about how stars — including our sun — give off energy. He called this cascade of energy the solar wind, and he described an entire complex system of plasmas, magnetic fields and energetic particles that make up this phenomenon. 

Dr. Parker was at the launch and got to speak with us about how excited he is to see this mission and his life’s work head to the Sun. 

Dr. Eugene Parker (seated in the foreground) Credits: NASA/Glenn Benson

Touring NASA Kennedy Space Center

Learning all about the Parker Solar Probe was fantastic, but we also got to tour the NASA facilities that help get these missions off the ground. We visited that Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) where the rockets and space shuttles are assembled before heading out to the launchpad. 

Next up was the Crawler Transporter 2 that carries the rocket from the VAB to the specific launch pad. The CT2 rolls through at a whopping .75-.9 mph. It takes 8 hours to get from the VAB to the launchpad! It is so heavy that the rock underneath crumbles to nearly dust and have to be replaced all the time. 

We then visited the Launch Complex 39B where we got to see an empty launch pad to see the flame trench and sound suppression system. Next, the group stopped at Space Launch Complex 37 Pad where the Delta IV Heavy was prepped for launch with the Parker Solar Probe inside. While visiting the complex, we got the surprise of a lifetime when the United Launch Alliance (ULA) president and CEO Tory Bruno showed up to chat with us! 

We also got to see the Operations Support Building and the 45th Weather Squadron where they track the weather to make sure there is a successful launch. 

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Watching a NASA Launch

If you haven’t watched a NASA launch (even on TV or streaming), I highly recommend it. The highlight of the trip was watching the Delta IV Heavy launch the Parker Solar Probe into space. The launch happened in the wee hours of the morning and was scrubbed the first night. The sights and sounds of a launch, especially one at night are incredible. Florida is so flat that you can see them from pretty far away as well. 

Credit: NASA

The Parker Solar Probe is now on its way to the Sun. It will use Venus’ gravity during seven flybys over nearly seven years to gradually bring its orbit closer to the Sun. It is expected to reach Venus in October to start the first flyby. We can’t wait to start seeing the data that the probe starts to collect. Previous missions that have covered Jupiter and Saturn have produced some of the most amazing images I’ve ever seen. 

Thanks for stopping by for this amazing S.T.E.A.M. Satruday! 

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Meghan Cooper is a writer, content creator, movie critic, and geek living in Atlanta, Ga. She loves movies, traveling, and lots of coffee. Member of the Southeastern Film Critics Association, Georgia Film Critics Association, and Atlanta Film Critics Circle.

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