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Parker Solar Probe Arrives in Florida

The Parker Solar Probe is moved into Astrotech Space Operation's clean room in Titusville, Florida, to begin final preparations before launch. Photo Credit: Ed Whitman / Johns Hopkins APL / NASA

The Parker Solar Probe is moved into Astrotech Space Operation’s clean room in Titusville, Florida, to begin final preparations before launch. Photo Credit: Ed Whitman / Johns Hopkins APL / NASA

NASA’s Parker Solar Probe has been delivered to an Astrotech Space Operations-owned facility in Titusville, Florida, to begin final preparations before its launch this summer, the U.S. space agency said.

The Parker Solar Probe is designed to fly closer to the Sun than any previous spacecraft, coming just 3.8 million miles (6.1 million kilometers) from the solar photosphere, the part of the Sun referred to by solar physicists as the Sun’s surface. The Earth’s closest approach to the Sun is usually about 91 million miles (146 million kilometers). Mercury’s closest approach is around 28 million miles (45 million kilometers).

Helios B, the previous spacecraft to closely approach the Sun, came within just 26 million miles (42 million kilometers) of the photosphere on April 17, 1976.

The road to launch

The spacecraft’s journey to the Sunshine State began with a short drive from NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center to Joint Base Andrews in Maryland. There, the Parker Solar Probe was loaded onto an Air Force C-17 aircraft, which took off for Florida. After landing at the Space Coast Regional Airport in Titusville, the probe was then transported to Astrotech Space Operations.

Parker Solar Probe and the team received a smooth ride from the Air Force C-17 crew from the 436th,” Andy Driesman, Parker Solar Probe project manager from the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland, said in a news release. “This is the second most important flight Parker Solar Probe will make, and we’re excited to be safely in Florida and continuing pre-launch work on the spacecraft.”

In the clean room at Astrotech’s facility, it will receive its specialized Thermal Protection System (TPS), which will protect the body of the spacecraft from the incredible heat of the Sun. After that, the probe will be loaded with maneuvering fuel before being mated to the Delta IV Heavy’s Payload Attach Fitting ahead of payload fairing encapsulation.

The United Launch Alliance (ULA) Delta IV Heavy rocket that will launch the Parker Solar Probe is already being assembled and check out at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station’s Space Launch Complex 37B. The triple-core booster is set to launch the spacecraft toward the Sun no earlier than 4:00 a.m. EDT (8:00 GMT) July 31, 2018. NASA and ULA will have two hours each day through Aug. 19 to get the mission underway.

Once the Parker Solar Probe is launched, it will utilize seven flybys of Venus to change its orbit to closely approach the Sun. The spacecraft will study the Sun for a nominal mission of seven years, orbiting the star 24 times to study its atmosphere and surface, including investigating why the the corona is so much hotter than the surface.

Video courtesy of NASA Goddard



Christopher Paul has had a lifelong interest in spaceflight. He began writing about his interest in the Florida Tech Crimson. His primary areas of interest are in historical space systems and present and past planetary exploration missions. He lives in Kissimmee, Florida, and also enjoys cooking and photography. Paul saw his first Space Shuttle launch in 2005 when he moved to central Florida to attend classes at the Florida Institute of Technology, studying space science, and has closely followed the space program since. Paul is especially interested in the renewed effort to land crewed missions on the Moon and to establish a permanent human presence there. He has covered several launches from NASA's Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral for space blogs before joining SpaceFlight Insider in mid-2017.

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