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NASA shifts launch of spacecraft to the Sun

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NASA on Saturday postponed the launch of a Delta IV Heavy rocket carrying the Parker Solar Probe spacecraft, designed to probe the Sun.

An artist impression of the NASA spacecraft going to probe the Sun

The launch was scheduled for early today, but after several shifts in timing, the space agency announced it was scrubbing it, due to a violation of a launch limit.

It said “there was not enough time remaining in the window to recycle”.

The launch is now planned for Sunday, Aug. 12 at 3:31a.m EDT from Space Launch Complex-37 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

According to NASA, the forecast shows a 60 percent chance of favourable weather conditions for launch. The launch time is 3:31 a.m. EDT.

NASA’s $1.5 billion Parker Solar Probe spacecraft, the size of a car, aims to plunge into the Sun’s sizzling atmosphere and become humanity’s first mission to explore a star.

The probe’s main goal is to unveil the secrets of the corona, the unusual atmosphere around Sun.

Not only is the corona about 300 times hotter than the Sun’s surface, it also hurls powerful plasma and energetic particles that can unleash geomagnetic space storms and disrupt Earth’s power grid.

“The Parker Solar Probe will help us do a much better job of predicting when a disturbance in the solar wind could hit Earth,” said Justin Kasper, one of the project scientists and a professor at the University of Michigan.

The probe is protected by an ultra-powerful heat shield that is just 4.5 inches thick (11.43 centimeters).

The shield should enable the spacecraft to survive its close shave with the center of our solar system, coming within 3.83 million miles (6.16 million kilometers) of the Sun’s surface.

The heat shield is built to withstand radiation equivalent up to about 500 times the Sun’s radiation here on Earth.

Even in a region where temperatures can reach more than a million degrees Fahrenheit, the sunlight is expected to heat the shield to just around 2,500 degrees Fahrenheit (1,371 degrees Celsius).

NAN

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