In Depth

Nasa Parker Solar Probe: mission to ‘touch the Sun’ gets off to rocky start

Launch delayed by technical problem before space agency briefly loses contact with the star-bound rocket

Nasa’s mission to “touch the Sun” is under way following the launch of the Parker Solar Probe early on Sunday morning. 

The satellite was due to lift off on Saturday, but a technical fault forced the US space agency to postpone the launch, The Guardian reports. 

The probe finally blasted off from Cape Canaveral space port, in Florida, the following day at at 3:31am (8:13am UK time) - only to experience technical troubles around 40 minutes into the flight.

According to The Sunday Times, Nasa briefly lost contact with the spacecraft, creating a “nervous” atmosphere in the mission control room until communications resumed. 

The $1.5bn (£1.2bn) mission marks the agency’s first attempt at sending a probe to the centre of the solar system, where the craft will get within 3.8 million miles of the Sun’s surface, Metro reports. 

Although that distance may sound too far to justify Nasa’s claim that it will “touch” the star’s surface, the probe is expected to break through the Sun’s atmosphere - known as the Corona - a total of 24 times over seven years while gathering data about its climate.

The spacecraft is named after Eugene Parker, a 91-year-old physicist who first predicted the existence of solar wind in 1958, the Daily Express says. 

While “only the size of a car”, the satellite is tough enough to withstand temperatures of 1,300C and to travel at speeds of up to 430,000mph, the newspaper adds.

Scientists expect the Parker Solar Probe to cover the 89-million-mile distance to the Sun’s Corona by November, after using Venus’s gravitational pull as a slingshot towards the star in October, Sky News reports.

Recommended

Long Covid: the symptoms, the treatment and who is most at risk
A Covid patient is wheeled into hospital
Fact file

Long Covid: the symptoms, the treatment and who is most at risk

Fact check: does a pint a day really keep the doctor away?
binge drinking
In Depth

Fact check: does a pint a day really keep the doctor away?

Why under-40s will be offered alternative to Oxford vaccine
A medical worker draws up a dose of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine
Getting to grips with . . .

Why under-40s will be offered alternative to Oxford vaccine

Psychedelics, peacekeeping and office productivity
The effect of LSD on the brain
Podcast

Psychedelics, peacekeeping and office productivity

Popular articles

London mayoral race 2021: who will win?
Night Tube Sadiq Khan
In Depth

London mayoral race 2021: who will win?

UK elections: why the results matter and who is tipped to win
Boris Johnson in Hartlepool
Getting to grips with . . .

UK elections: why the results matter and who is tipped to win

Hartlepool by-election polls: all the runners and the favourite to win
Hartlepool by-election
Fact file

Hartlepool by-election polls: all the runners and the favourite to win