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

The Week logo The Week 13/08/2018 Cameron Tait

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. 

3-2-1%u2026 and we have liftoff of Parker #SolarProbe atop @ULAlaunch%u2019s #DeltaIV Heavy rocket. Tune in as we broadcast our mission to %u201Ctouch%u201D the Sun: https://t.co/T3F4bqeATB pic.twitter.com/Ah4023Vfvn

Nasa Parker Solar Probe: mission to ‘touch the Sun’ gets off to rocky start © ®Bill Ingalls/NASA via Getty Images® Nasa Parker Solar Probe: mission to ‘touch the Sun’ gets off to rocky start

— NASA (@NASA) 12 August 2018

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.

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