NASA is preparing to launch its Parker Solar Probe in the early hours on Saturday morning. This historic event will send the probe “to touch the Sun,” the space agency says, which anticipates setting a new “fastest spacecraft” speed record. Among other things, the spacecraft will carry a microchip with more than a million names on it.
If everything goes as planned, the Parker Solar Probe will reach its first close point to the Sun this November, resulting in the first batch of data in December. The probe, which is described as the size of a small car, features a 4.5-inch thick carbon fiber and foam shield that will help protect the spacecraft from the Sun’s intense heat.
Though the side facing the Sun will reach 2500F, the probe itself will be cooler at 85F, says NASA. NASA will send the probe off on its mission with 55 times more energy than would be needed to reach Mars, the space agency explains. During its elliptical orbit, the Parker Solar Probe will make it up to 430,000mph, which would be a new speed record.
To help the public visualize the incredible speed, NASA says something traveling that fast could go from Philadelphia to Washington DC in a single second. The probe will orbit around the Sun 24 times, its closest point ultimately being 3.8 million miles. NASA plans to use Venus to slow down the probe, helping set it on the right course for its mission. The spacecraft will make a total of seven orbits around Venus.
Talking about the mission is Goddard solar physicist Nicholeen Viall:
All of our data on the corona so far have been remote. We have been very creative to get as much as we can out of our data, but there is nothing like actually sticking a probe in the corona to see what’s happening there.
The launch will take place at 3:33AM ET tomorrow; you can watch it live on NASA TV here.