PHOTOS: Parker Solar Probe Hoisted Atop Delta-IV Heavy for Launch August 11

Encapsulated in its payload fairing, NASA’s Parker Solar Probe is mated to a United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy rocket at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station’s Space Launch Complex 37 on Tuesday, July 31, 2018. Liftoff is targeting Aug 11 at 3:33am EDT. Photo Credit: NASA

The first spacecraft in history destined to ‘touch’ a star was secured atop ULA’s powerhouse Delta-IV Heavy rocket at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station’s beachside launch complex-37 in Florida last week, as the countdown moves forward towards a 3:33 a.m. EDT liftoff on August 11 to send NASA’s Parker Solar Probe (PSP) on its way to the sun. 

Built by the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland, the lightweight car-sized PSP is the most autonomous spacecraft ever made, and will become the fastest human-made object in history when it makes its closest approach to the sun, traveling at speeds of up to 430,000 miles per hour (700,000 kilometers per hour) as it swoops through the sun’s atmosphere 24 times over a period of 7 years, or as fast as traveling from New York City to Tokyo in less than one minute.

 

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Encapsulating NASA’s Parker Solar Probe for the ride to space atop a ULA Delta IV Heavy rocket as soon as Aug 11. Photo Credit: NASA

The spacecraft was encapsulated within its 62.7-foot bullet-like payload fairing in mid July, and was transported from its clean room processing facility at Astrotech in nearby Titusville, to the launch pad on the night of July 30-31. The move took 7 hours to complete, before arriving to meet its rocket early in the morning July 31. Workers then spent the day carefully hoisting the spacecraft over 230 feet high, to integrate it atop the triple-barreled launcher.

With its payload now secure, the Delta-IV Heavy stands an impressive 232 feet tall (70.7m).

The rocket itself has been ready to go for some time, having already undergone critical pre-flight testing with two Wet Dress Rehearsals (WDR), or practice countdowns, in early July to uncover any issues and validate that the launcher, systems, launch team and ground support equipment are all ready to send the spacecraft to the sun. ULA conducted a successful initial WDR on Monday, July 2, which focused on “first stage objectives” and fueling of the vehicle’s three 134-foot tall Common Booster Cores, which are powered by a trio of RS-68A cryogenic liquid hydrogen/liquid oxygen burning engines.

A United Launch Alliance (ULA) Delta-IV Heavy undergoing a Wet Dress Rehearsal on Space Launch Complex 37B for NASA’s upcoming Parker Solar Probe launch, slated for no earlier than August 11, 2018. Photo Credit: ULA

On Friday, July 6, ULA conducted another WDR to include a full-blown countdown to a simulated liftoff, which included fueling of the rocket’s second stage, which is powered by a single cryogenic liquid hydrogen/liquid oxygen burning RL10 engine.

But final processing of the spacecraft has faced several delays this summer, as it was originally scheduled to launch in late July. The most recent stemming from final inspections following the encapsulation of the spacecraft within its fairing, when a small strip of foam was found inside, forcing workers to take additional time to look everything over. Additional time was also needed prior to that, to evaluate and modify the configuration of a cable clamp on the fairing.

Teams also had to repair a leak in the purge ground support tubing on the third stage rocket motor, which was discovered during final spacecraft processing in mid-July, and prior to that, the launch date slipped from July 31 to accommodate further software testing of spacecraft systems.

Parker Solar Probe sits in a clean room on July 6, 2018, at Astrotech Space Operations in Titusville, Florida, after the installation of its heat shield. Photo Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins APL/Ed Whitman

PSP only has until August 23 to launch, otherwise it will miss the planet Venus, whose gravity the spacecraft will need to “steer” itself into the proper orbits of the sun for the mission’s science objectives, getting closer and closer with each orbit. If they can’t launch by then, they’ll have to wait for the next window of opportunity in May 2019, when Venus is in position again to give PSP the gravity-assists it needs to reach the brutally hostile corona and sample the sun’s atmosphere.

To accomplish this, PSP requires an extremely high energy launch, 55 times more energy than reaching Mars actually. Even the Delta-IV Heavy can’t do that alone, so the spacecraft will employ a third rocket stage, a Star 48BV from Northrop Grumman, to gain the incredible speed it needs to reach the sun.

Upon liftoff the rocket will head due East from Florida’s Space Coast to deploy the probe on a path to the sun, to study it in a way never before possible and answer decades-old questions, such as how does energy and heat move through the solar corona? What accelerates the solar wind and solar energetic particles? And why is the temperature of the Sun’s surface about 10,000 degrees Fahrenheit, while its corona, or “atmosphere”, can reach millions of degrees Fahrenheit?

The sun’s corona shines bright in this incredible image of a Total Solar Eclipse over South Carolina, USA on August 21, 2017. NASA’s Parker Solar Probe will dive through this region numerous times over the next 7 years, giving humanity our first ever samplings of a star, and a better understanding of how it works and drives the space environment across the solar system. Photo Courtesy: Hap Griffin / www.ImagingInfinity.com

Using the gravitational tug of Venus to gradually shrink its orbit, the spacecraft will come closer to our star than any spacecraft before, facing brutal heat and radiation, in order to provide the first ever samplings of a star’s corona, which is visible to the human eye during a total solar eclipse.

Space weather plays a vital role in the health of not only our home planet, but the entire solar system overall. The more we know about how the sun works, the more we can understand and predict how it affects our celestial neighborhood and life here. We’ve been lucky so far, but it’s probably just a matter of time before a Coronal Mass Ejection cripples our satellites and power grids, and if we can have advanced warning that it will occur, it could save us all a lot of trouble. Not to mention, it could open our eyes as to how life on Earth developed and evolved, and teach us a lot about how stars across the universe behave.

We’ll have more in-depth articles on the science of the mission specifically, later this week.

 

BELOW: More shots of PSP being hoisted atop its rocket:

 

 

Photo: NASA

Parker Solar Probe sits inside half of its fairing. Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins APL/Ed Whitman

Parker Solar Probe, encapsulated with a 62.7-foot fairing, was transported to Launch Complex 37 overnight to meet its rocket, the U”A Delta IV Heavy, which will launch it to ‘touch’ the sun as soon as August 11 at 3:48 a.m. EDT. Photo Courtesy: Twitter @Fox35DerrolNail

Photo: NASA

Photo: NASA

Photo: NASA

Photo: NASA

 

 


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1 comment to PHOTOS: Parker Solar Probe Hoisted Atop Delta-IV Heavy for August 11 Launch

  • I’m very Happy to following this Missions as I signed up to have my name placed on a that has been aboard the Spacecraft. That card has my name on it and I think that card also has the names of others who saw the Invitation from NASA on Google, Facebook, etc. I have really enjoyed being able to participate in Missions in this way and have been doing it since the First Time in the Summer of 1996 when a Space Magazine had a small article about how the Widow of Carl Sagan had created the idea of having ordinary people participate by submitting their signatures which would then be placed on a CD-ROM that would be placed aboard the Cassini-Saturn Orbiter. While it did launch with the CD-ROM, it was all destroyed last year when Cassini was commanded to enter Saturn’s atmosphere in order to make zero chance for contamination of Titan and Enceladus since they, like Europa in Jupiter orbit, shows signs of conditions conducive to the Evolution of Life.
    Here’s to the PSP and it’s Mission and to the possibility of the Probe being recovered by American Astronauts in the Future.

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