NASA’s Parker Solar Probe satellite is on track to achieve its mission objectives, as it is currently on its way to the planet Venus, according to a new statement released by the US Government-run space agency. The probe is expected to reach Venus by October 3, and will use the planet’s gravity to slingshot towards the sun, its eventual destination. The Parker Solar Probe will come to within 24.1 million kilometers of the sun, significantly closer than the 43.4 million kilometer distance achieved by the Helios 2 mission in 1976.
The probe is named after US physicist Eugene Parker, whose early theory of solar winds – supersonic particles being shot out of the sun in all directions – were confirmed by the first space missions after World War II. Parker, now 91 years old, traveled to NASA‘s Kennedy Space Center in Florida to attend the launch of his namesake satellite. The mission, which is coming at a cost of $1.5 billion, is aimed to study the sun, and send back scientific data to Earth on its findings.
The total length of the mission is set to be around six years, as the probe will make its closest approach six years after launch. The probe will come as close as 6.2 million kilometers from the sun, and is suitably armored to be able to withstand the high temperatures of being so close to the star. Interestingly, the Parker Solar Probe carries the names of 1.1 million people on a memory card mounted on a plaque on the satellite, along with images of Eugene Parker, and a copy of his 1958 research paper predicting important aspects of solar physics.
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As with other scientific space missions, the Parker Solar Probe will be considered a successful mission once it achieves its basic objectives in six years. The probe is operating as planned, and is on track to achieve these mission objectives, as per NASA. Once these objectives are achieved, the probe will continue operating on extended parameters, and send data for as long as it remains operative and able to to communicate with mission control on Earth.