International Space Agencies – Missions and Discoveries

Parker, world’s first mission to Sun lifts off


Mains Paper 3: Science & Technology | Awareness in the fields of IT, Space, Computers, robotics, nano-technology, bio-technology

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Parker Solar Probe

Mains level: The newscard gives complete information about NASAs solar mission


Parker Solar Probe

  1. NASA launched the Parker Solar Probe – the space agency’s first mission to the sun – that will explore the sun’s atmosphere and its outermost atmosphere, the corona.
  2. The spacecraft is named after 91-year old solar physicist Eugene Parker, 91, who was the first scientist to describe solar wind in 1958.
  3. The probe, about the size of a car, will fly through the Sun’s atmosphere and will come as close as 3.8 million miles to the star’s surface, well within the orbit of Mercury.
  4. It will be more than seven times closer than any spacecraft has come before. The Parker probe is expected to make 24 loops of the Sun over seven years.

What makes its special?

  1. During the journey, the spacecraft will fly by Venus at speeds of 4, 30, 000 mph, the equivalent of flying from New York to Tokyo in one minute.
  2. In order to reach an orbit around the sun, the Parker Solar Probe will take seven flybys of Venus that will essentially give a gravity assist, shrinking its orbit over the course of nearly seven years.
  3. It will have to endure temperatures up to 2,500 degrees Fahrenheit (1,370 degrees Celsius) and solar radiation intensities 475 times higher than we’re used to here on Earth.

Main objectives of Parker Solar Probe

  1. The mission will attempt to uncover the Sun’s mysteries about its structure and magnetic and electric fields, as well as the energetic particles cruising near and away from Earth’s star.
  2. These events can affect satellites and astronauts as well as the Earth including power grids and radiation exposure on airline flights.
  3. The information will help researchers and scientists solve longstanding mysteries:
  • How the solar wind is accelerated
  • Why the sun’s outer atmosphere, or corona, is so much hotter than the solar surface
  • Explore mechanisms that accelerate and transport energy particles

What part of this mission will ‘touch’ the Sun?

  1. The Solar Probe Cup, dubbed ‘the bravest little instrument’, is a sensor will extend beyond the heat shield to take samples of the Sun’s atmosphere.
  2. The cup will glow red when the probe makes its closest approach to the sun, sampling the solar wind and effectively touching the sun.

Mission to end in 2025

  1. The mission is scheduled to end in June 2025 till it runs out of propellent.
  2. The first data download from the Parker Solar Probe is expected in early December after the probe reaches its first close approach of the sun in November.
  3. In 10 to 20 years, a carbon disk will be floating around the sun in orbit, and it will be around until the end of the solar system.

Europe’s Solar Probe in works

  1. The European Space Agency is also building a similar solar probe.
  2. Solar Orbiter, or SolO is undergoing final assembly and testing in the UK.
  3. It is expected to launch in 2020, arriving at its closest position to the Sun towards the end of Parker’s planned seven years of operations.
  4. SolO will go to within 42 million km of the Sun’s surface. That’s further away than Parker but it will still need an impressive shield.

Aditya-L1’s launch is also near

  1. Aditya-L1 is a spacecraft whose mission is to study the Sun.
  2. It was conceptualised by the Advisory Committee for Space Research in January 2008.
  3. It has been designed and will be built in collaboration between Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) and various Indian research organizations.
  4. It will be launched by ISRO around 2019 or 2020.
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