NASA’s GOLD mission — short for Global-scale Observations of the Limb and Disk — launched aboard a commercial communications satellite on Jan. 25, 2018. From its vantage point in geostationary orbit over Brazil, GOLD gets a full-disk view of the same region of space that ICON studies, helping scientists connect the big picture with the details.
See the complete countdown to ICON’s launch, planned for no earlier than Nov. 7
Parker Solar Probe now holds the record for closest approach to the Sun by a human-made object. The spacecraft passed the current record of 26.55 million miles from the Sun’s surface on Oct. 29, 2018, at about 1:04 p.m. EDT, as calculated by the Parker Solar Probe team.
The previous record for closest solar approach was set by the German-American Helios 2 spacecraft in April 1976. As the Parker Solar Probe mission progresses, the spacecraft will repeatedly break its own records, with a final close approach of 3.83 million miles from the Sun’s surface expected in 2024.
“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,” said Project Manager Andy Driesman, from the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland. “It’s a proud moment for the team, though we remain focused on our first solar encounter, which begins on Oct. 31.”
Parker Solar Probe is also expected to break the record for fastest spacecraft traveling relative to the Sun on Oct. 29 at about 10:54 p.m. EDT. The current record for heliocentric speed is 153,454 miles per hour, set by Helios 2 in April 1976.
The Parker Solar Probe team periodically measures the spacecraft’s precise speed and position using NASA’s Deep Space Network, or DSN. The DSN sends a signal to the spacecraft, which then retransmits it back to the DSN, allowing the team to determine the spacecraft’s speed and position based on the timing and characteristics of the signal. Parker Solar Probe’s speed and position were calculated using DSN measurements made through Oct. 24, and the team used that information along with known orbital forces to calculate the spacecraft’s speed and position from that point on.
Parker Solar Probe will begin its first solar encounter on Oct. 31, continuing to fly closer and closer to the Sun’s surface until it reaches its first perihelion — the point closest to the Sun — at about 10:28 p.m. EST on Nov. 5. The spacecraft will face brutal heat and radiation conditions while providing humanity with unprecedentedly close-up observations of a star and helping us understand phenomena that have puzzled scientists for decades. These observations will add key knowledge to NASA’s efforts to understand the Sun, where changing conditions can propagate out into the solar system, affecting Earth and other worlds.
Banner image: Parker Solar Probe, shown in this animation, became the closest-ever spacecraft to the Sun on Oct. 29, 2018, when it passed within 26.55 million miles of the Sun’s surface. Credit: NASA/JHUAPL
Parker Solar Probe sets records during first encounter with the sun
Less than three months after its fiery departure from Cape Canaveral, NASA’s Parker Solar Probe flew within 15 million miles (24 million kilometers) of the sun Monday for the $1.5 billion mission’s first close-up solar encounter.
Flying in an autonomous mode out of contact with ground controllers, the solar probe was on a trajectory that reached its closest point to the sun at 10:28 p.m. EST Monday (0328 GMT Tuesday), according to NASA.
Parker Solar Probe is circling the sun in an elliptical loop that takes the spacecraft from perihelion — the closest point to the sun which it passed Monday — to a distant point between the orbits of Venus and Earth. The spacecraft’s perihelion Monday reached a position less than half the distance from the sun as Mercury.
“You’re going into an environment that’s completely unforgiving,” said Andy Driesman, Parker Solar Probe’s project manager at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, which built and operates the spacecraft. “The temperatures that we are seeing on the spacecraft have not been seen by any other spacecraft ever before. The first perihelion we’re going into, we have very minimal contact. All we can get is a tone.”
During the last year or so we have been asked this question many times. We have been testing a special art installation called Sunstar, created by Liliane Lin and John Vallerga. It is on loan to Mount Wilson Observatory, and is now being presented as part of Pasadena’s AxS Festival: City as Wunderkammerer.
NASA and Northrop Grumman have delayed the launch of the agency’s Ionospheric Connection Explorer, or ICON, to conduct further pre-launch testing on the rocket. Upon completion of the testing, a new launch date will be established.
The Ionospheric Connection Explorer! 🚀 ICON will study Earth’s dynamic interface to space. To get ready for the Oct. 26 launch, we’re counting down with 10 key things to know about the mission:
First up: 🔟-mile-per-hour sensitivity
Though ICON zooms around Earth at upwards of 14,000 miles per hour, its wind-measuring instrument MIGHTI can detect changes in wind speed smaller than 10 miles per hour. MIGHTI makes use of the Doppler effect — the same phenomenon that makes an ambulance siren change pitch as it passes you — and measures the tiny shifts in color caused by the motion of glowing gases in the upper atmosphere, which reveals their speed and direction.
Tick, tick, tick. The device — a Geiger counter strapped to a miniature tape recorder — was registering radiation levels a thousand times greater than anyone expected. As the instrument moved higher, more than 900 miles above the surface, the counts ceased. Scientists were baffled. It was early 1958, the United States had just launched its first spacecraft, and a new discipline of physics was about to be born.
Sixty years ago today, the United States launched its first satellite into space. Dubbed Explorer 1, the spacecraft followed just months after the Soviet Union’s Sputnik 1 and 2 spacecraft commenced the Space Age. Data captured by the Geiger counter aboard Explorer 1 heralded the emergence of space physics and ushered in a new era of technology and communications.
Far above Earth’s atmosphere, the radiation picked up by the instrument aboard Explorer 1 wasn’t of Earthly origin. In fact, it was from a region scientists previously considered largely void of particles. Prior to launch, scientists expected to measure cosmic rays — high-energy particles primarily originating beyond the solar system — which they had previously studied with ground- and balloon-based instruments. But what they found far outpaced the levels of radiation that would be expected from cosmic rays alone.
Four months after standing down launch operations of the ICON mission on their Pegasus rocket, Northrop Grumman Innovation Systems is entering the home stretch for a realigned launch on 26 October 2018 at 04:05 EDT (0805 UTC) over the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Cape Canaveral, Florida.
This week, Northrop Grumman Innovation Systems managers for both ICON and Pegasus sat down with NASASpaceflight’s Chris Gebhardt to discuss what happened back in June as well as the current status of both vehicles in the final weeks before launch.
What happened in June:
In June, Northrop Grumman Innovation Systems (NGIS) began the ferry flight of their Stargazer L-1011 aircraft – with the Pegasus rocket safely encapsulating ICON inside its payload fairing – across the Pacific Ocean from California to the Kwajalein Atoll, where the air-drop launch of ICON was set to occur.
During the first leg of this trip from California to Hawai’i, systems engineers aboard Stargazer noticed an off-nominal reading from one of Pegasus’ new Actuator Control Units.
“This is the first time that we’re using Northrop Grumman-designed Actuator Control Units,” stated Bryan Baldwin, Pegasus Program Manager, Northrop Grumman Innovation Systems, in an exclusive interview with NASASpaceflight.
The Mission Status
October 5, 2018 courtesy fo NASA SpaceFlight