On Sept. 21, 2017, engineers at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland, lowered the thermal protection system – the heat shield – onto the spacecraft for a test of alignment as part of integration and testing.
This is the first time that the revolutionary heat shield that will protect the first spacecraft to fly directly into the Sun’s atmosphere was installed; also, this is the only time the spacecraft will have its thermal protection system — which will reach temperatures of 2,500 degrees F while at the Sun — attached until just before launch.
Parker Solar Probe is scheduled for launch on July 31, 2018, from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida. The spacecraft will explore the Sun’s outer atmosphere and make critical observations that will answer decades-old questions about the physics of how stars work. The resulting data will improve forecasts of major space weather events that impact life on Earth, as well as satellites and astronauts in space.