NASA is taking time to brag on the continued success of the Parker Solar Probe. The probe made its fourth close approach to the Sun, known as perihelion on January 29. The probe is controlled at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory in Maryland, and the controllers reported a “status A” beacon for the spacecraft on February 1 after its pass by the Sun.
The team says that Status A is the best of four possible status signals and indicated normal operation of the spacecraft and its instrument suites. The status indicates any issues the probe did have were fixed by the onboard autonomy system of the probe.
The perihelion was a record-breaker for the probe for speed and proximity to the Sun for a human-made object. The spacecraft reached 244,255 mph as it passed by the Sun at a distance of 11.6 million miles. While that is very far from the surface of the Sun, the heat shield on the probe reached a new record temperature of 1,134F on the Sun-facing side.
The team controlling the probe says that the heat shield was 300 degrees hotter than what was seen on the previous three passes by the Sun. Behind the heat shield, the spacecraft and instruments stayed about 85F. The next perihelia is expected to happen in 2024-2025, and on that pass, heat shield temperatures are expected to reach 2,500F.
Spacecraft operators have learned more about operations and conditions in the region of space the Parker Solar Probe lives in, allowing them to increase the amount of time the instruments are on and gathering data. The fourth pass close to the Sun started on January 23 and will continue through February 29, with the data being downloaded to Earth in the beginning of March.