CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — A NASA spacecraft has made its first close approach to the sun, just 2 1⁄2 months after liftoff.
The Parker Solar Probe flew within 15 million miles of the sun’s surface Monday night. Its speed topped 213,000 mph relative to the sun, as it penetrated the outer solar atmosphere, or corona.
No spacecraft has ever gotten so close to our star.
NASA won’t re-establish contact until Parker is far enough from the sun to avoid radio interference. NASA’s Nicola Fox says scientists “can’t wait to get the data.” The observations could unlock some of the sun’s mysteries.
Assuming it survives the harsh solar environment, the spacecraft will make 23 even closer approaches over the next seven years. The next is in April.
Up next: atmospheric satellite launch
NASA and Northrop Grumman are trying again this week with the planned launch of the space agency’s ICON satellite after a late October launch date was scrapped.
The satellite, destined to explore the area between Earth and space, will be carried into orbit by Northrop’s Pegasus XL, a unique kind of rocket that launches midair after being dropped from a plane.
After a successful Launch Readiness review Tuesday morning, NASA confirmed the 90-minute launch window is now set to open at 3 a.m. Wednesday morning. The L-1011 Stargazer is set to take to the skies from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station’s Skid Strip, with a release targeted for 3:05 a.m.
Weather conditions are 90 percent “go” for launch with some threat of cumulus clouds, according to the Air Force’s 45th Weather Squadron.
NASA’s $242 million Ionospheric Connection Explorer satellite, known as ICON, was originally set to launch Oct. 26. But issues with three tail fins, discovered when the Pegasus rocket was ferried to the Space Coast from California’s Vandenberg Air Force Base, halted the launch.
According to Florida Today, engineers have since swapped out components of the electrical system that controls the tail fins.
The ICON satellite will study the ionosphere, the area of Earth’s atmosphere where terrestrial weather meets space weather. This is also the area where auroras occur. But the ionosphere can also cause disruptions in radio transmissions, satellites and astronaut health, NASA said.
The ICON satellite will help the space agency better explore the ionosphere and mitigate its effects.
The ICON launch was originally set to take place in December but has been pushed back multiple times.
— The Orlando Sentinel contributed to this report.