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Solar Powered Probe To Visit The Sun


by Energy Matters

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NASA has embarked on a mission to visit and study the sun closer than ever before - and it will also be the closest that solar panels have ever been to a star. 
The craft will first fly by Venus multiple times as part of seven gravity assists that will help propel it towards the sun. Solar Probe Plus will get as closes as 6.4 million kilometres to the sun's surface, into its corona; a region that no other spacecraft has ever reached.
The car sized spacecraft will incorporate special heat resistant solar panels which will fold into the shadows of a protective solar shade, leaving just enough precision angled solar panel showing to generate power as the craft draws closer to the sun. And very hot it will be - the carbon-composite heat shield must withstand temperatures exceeding 1,400 degrees Celsius. The craft and solar panels will also be exposed to intense radiation.
The journey will seek to answer two important questions: why the sun's outer atmosphere is hotter than its visible surface and what propels the solar wind. According to Dick Fisher, director of NASA's Heliophysics Division in Washington, science has tussled with these questions for many years and this mission should finally provide those answers. Solar Probe+ will help to characterise and forecast the radiation environment in which future space explorers will work and live
The Solar Probe Plus mission is part of NASA's Living with a Star Program; designed to help us understand aspects of the sun and Earth's space environment that affect life and society.


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