LIVE COVERAGE: Watch Delta IV Heavy Launch Parker Solar Probe Late Tonight

NASA’s Parker Solar Probe atop ULA/s Delta IV Heavy this evening at Cape Canaveral, counting down to a 3:33am EDT liftoff to ‘touch’ the sun. Mars is visible to the upper left. Photo Credit: Mike Killian / AmericaSpace.com

UPDATE: New launch time tonight now targeting 3:53am EDT.

Original Story:  Liftoff of NASA’s $1.5 billion Parker Solar Probe mission, the first ever to ‘touch’ the sun, is scheduled for liftoff at 3:33 a.m. EDT atop a 232-foot tall United Launch Alliance (ULA) Delta IV Heavy rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station Launch Complex-37B, at the opening of a 65-minute launch window. The weather forecast currently calls for a 70% chance of favorable conditions for launch.

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.

 

Follow our LAUNCH TRACKER for updates & LIVE COVERAGE starting at 3:00am EDT!

 

It’s a small spacecraft in one of the most powerful rockets in the world, because it requires such 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.

Mars rising over ULA’s Delta IV Heavy this evening at Cape Canaveral, counting down to launch tonight with NASA’s Parker Solar Probe at 3:33am EDT. Photo Credit: Mike Killian / AmericaSpace.com

Scientists have been trying to answer some of the big questions about the Sun for over 60 years, 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?

  • Read our story on the science of the mission HERE.

But to get the answers, you have to actually go there, and fly through the corona itself.

Upon liftoff the rocket will head due East, pushing over 2 million pounds of thrust from its three liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen-burning RS-68A engines. Once the two outer cores are spent at 3:57 into flight they will jettison, and the center core will go on until its engine is spent at 5:35. Eight seconds later the first stage will separate, followed seconds later by ignition of the rocket’s 24,750 lb-thrust second stage cryogenic liquid hydrogen/liquid oxygen RL10B-2 engine.

Ten seconds later the fairings will jettison, exposing PSP to space for the first time as the second stage engine continues accelerating it ahead until 10:37, coasting for several minutes until reigniting at 22:25 and cruising over Africa and Madagascar until the seined engine cutoff at 36:38.

The second stage will then separate, and the third stage engine will ignite to take over at 37:29, burning for about 1.5 minutes and burning out, then deploying the spacecraft off the coast of Australia at 43:18, sending it on its way to the sun.

 

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