Baltimore, United States — A NASA spacecraft has broken two records on its journey toward the sun. The Parker Solar Probe is now the both closest spacecraft to the sun and the fastest spacecraft in space — with a speed of over 153,000 miles/hour. And it still hasn’t reached its final speed. Its operating team expects that it will exceed 430,000 miles/hour in the last leg of its journey to the sun.
The spacecraft was launched in August from the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida. Now, three months into its journey, it has become the closest man-made vehicle to the sun. It’s currently at around 26.55 million miles away from its objective. Protected by specially designed heat shields that are made of layers of carbon-carbon, a lightweight material designed to withstand insanely high temperatures, the Parker Solar Probe will be able to withstand the sun’s hostile conditions.
In 2024, the Parker Solar Probe will finish its mission with a final close approach to the sun (it will come approximately 3.83 million miles from the sun’s surface — the limitations of current technology combined with the sun’s radiation restrict a closer survey). The Parker Solar Probe was designed, built, and is operated by a team of scientists from the Applied Physics Laboratory of the Johns Hopkins University.
“It’s been just 78 days since Parker Solar Probe launched, and we’ve now come closer to our star than any other spacecraft in history. It’s a proud moment for the team, though we remain focused on our first solar encounter, which now begins,” said Andy Driesman, the project manager of APL’s Space Exploration Sector.
The Space Exploration Sector conducts basic and applied research in support of NASA. More specifically, it’s focused on analysing our planet’s environs, atmosphere, and aeronomy and the planetary systems of our solar system. This is where much of the cutting-edge equipment that NASA utilises in its missions is first conceptualized and developed.
The Parker Solar Probe will attempt to gather new data on the sun’s activity in order to enhance human ability to predict and understand space-weather events that might impact Earth. The joint German-American spacecraft Helios 2 held the previous record for the closest solar approach. Helios 2 has achieved that distinction back in 1976. These might seem like distant and narrowed projects, but this is how humanity advances. Like the naval and land exploration of the past, space exploration is a noble aspiration that overcomes bounds and unleashes humanity’s full potential.