Unmanned NASA craft takes off on mission towards Sun

NASA needed the mighty 23-story rocket, plus a third stage, to get the Parker probe - the size of a small vehicle and well under a ton - racing toward the sun, 93 million miles (150 million kilometers) from Earth.

The launch of the car-sized probe aboard a massive Delta IV-Heavy rocket lit the night sky at Cape Canaveral, Florida at 3:31 am. Facing brutal heat and radiation, the spacecraft will fly close enough to watch the solar wind speed up from subsonic to supersonic, and fly through the birthplace of the highest-energy solar particles.

A NASA spacecraft has taken off on an historic mission towards the Sun in a delayed launch at Cape Canaveral in Florida.

The journey, called the Parker Solar Probe, will loop around the sun 24 times, flying within the star's hot million-degree atmosphere.

The corona gives rise to the solar wind, a continuous flow of charged particles that permeates the solar system and can cause havoc with communications technology on Earth.

United States space agency Nasa has launched its mission to send a satellite closer to the Sun than any before.

Thousands of spectators jammed the launch site, including 91-year-old astrophysicist Eugene Parker after whom the spacecraft is named.

From Earth, it is 93 million miles (150 million kilometers) to the sun, and the Parker probe will be within 4 percent of that distance at its closest.


To handle the heat it has been covered with a special 4.5 inch thick carbon-composite shield capable of withstanding temperatures up to 1,650C.

Roughly the size of a small auto, PSP will get almost seven times closer to the sun than any previous spacecraft.

Scientists expect the $1.5-billion mission to shed light not only on our own dynamic sun, but the billions of other yellow dwarf stars - and other types of stars - out there in the Milky Way and beyond. The cup will glow red when the probe makes its closest approach to the sun, sampling the solar wind and effectively touching the sun.

"I really have to turn from biting my nails in getting it launched, to thinking about all the interesting things which I don't know yet and which will be made clear, I assume, over the next five or six or seven years", Parker said on NASA TV.

"Wow, here we go".

The Parker Solar Probe carries a lineup of instruments to study the Sun both remotely and in situ, or directly.

He added: "It's a whole new phase and it's gonna be fascinating throughout.and we're just waiting for the data now so the experts can get busy because there's a lot of data will be coming in".

Parker said he was "impressed" by the Parker Solar Probe, calling it "a very complex machine". Perhaps most important for us humans, the science undertaken with the help of the Parker Solar Probe will likely improve our ability to forecast space weather - including solar flares that can disrupt signals from satellites and, in extreme cases, can even blow out transformers on our terrestrial power grids. "The materials didn't exist to allow us to do it".

  • Valerie Cook