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Parker Solar Probe sensor passes a final test

2 May 2018, 11:32 UTC
Parker Solar Probe sensor passes a final test
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NASA’s Parker Solar Probe will get closer to the Sun then any other spacecraft, effectively ‘touching the Sun’. Image credit: NASA
If you want to get within 6 million kilometres (3.7 million miles) of the Sun, you need to be able to withstand possibly the harshest environment ever experienced by a human-made spacecraft. NASA’s Parker Solar Probe will ‘touch the Sun’, equipped with a key sensor known as a Faraday cup, which will scoop up energetic particles from the Sun’s outer atmosphere. In preparation for the summertime launch, the key sensor has gone through some intense tests designed to simulate the Sun.
This £1.1 billion ($1.5 billion) mission by NASA is due to launch in the summer of 2018, and in order to succeed in this mission, the space probe needs to be able to withstand extreme radiation. The Faraday cup is part of Parker’s Solar Wind Electrons Alphas and Protons (SWEAP) instrument, and in the name of preparation, a model of the cup was recently subject to temperatures exceeding 1,650 degrees Celsius (3,000 degrees Fahrenheit). The cup, built from refractory metals and sapphire crystal insulators at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s Plasma Arc Lamp in Tennessee, United States, exceeded ...

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