Friday, August 10, 2018

NASA’s Daring Parker Solar Mission to ‘Touch Sun’ Tracking Towards Saturday Early Morning Blastoff Aug. 11: Watch Live

NASA’s Parker Solar Probe encapsulated in payload fairing is on the move as its rolling from Astrotech processing facility in Titusville on July 30 to Space Launch Complex-37 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL for hoisting atop United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy rocket and launch targeted for Aug. 11, 2018. Credit: Ken Kremer/
Ken Kremer  --  --   10 August 2018

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FL - NASA’s daring Parker Solar Probe mission to ‘touch the sun’ is tracking towards a spectacular blastoff in the wee hours of Saturday early morning August 11.

For those who have been, following along or not, the launch time has shifted slightly earlier.

Liftoff is slated for the opening of a launch window that starts at 3:33 a.m. EDT (0748 GMT) and lasts for 65 minutes until 4:38 a.m. EDT (0833 GMT).

The bold Parker Solar Probe mission will fly far closer to the Sun than any prior spacecraft – some ten times closer in fact.

Parker is on a historic mission to fly through the sun’s outer atmosphere -- the solar corona – skimming within 4 million miles, 8.86 solar radii (6.2 million kilometers) of the suns fiercely hot surface where it will encounter brutally hot conditions reaching into the millions of degrees and extremely intense and deadly radiation.  

Check out our exclusive gallery of Space UpClose eyewitness rollout photos taken last week and others from pad 37 as the rocket was undergoing wet dress rehearsal activities. 

You can watch the launch live on NASA Television and the agency’s website.

Live launch coverage starts at 3 a.m. EDT Sat., Aug. 11

The weather outlook is currently good with a 70 percent chance of acceptable conditions at launch time.

In case of delays for any reason technical or weather, back uo launch opportunities exist on Monday and Tuesday. The launch time shifts slightly each day.

Parker’s sure to be spectacular post-midnight launch is slated for Aug. 11, 2018 atop the triple barrel United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy rocket, the most powerful vehicle in the firms fleet, from pad 37 on Cape Canaveral

Blastoff of the car sized probe has been delayed several times to deal with a variety of spacecraft technical and payload processing issues from its originally planned July 31 liftoff date and eaten into the 3 week launch period – that’s was just extended a few more days! 

NASA and ULA only have until August 13 to get the spacecraft off the ground. So its getting close to the end of the launch period after which it will have to sit on Earth until the next opportunity for liftoff in May 2019.

The vehicle stack mounted inside the white colored fairing consists of the Parker Solar Probe (PSP) integrated on top of the third stage rocket motor, a Star 48BV provided by Northrop Grumman, formerly Orbital ATK.

The car-sized PSP is 3 meters tall and has a mass of 1,424-pounds (646-kilograms). It was developed at a cost of $1.5 Billion.  

As part of the final prelaunch operations, technicians lifted and mated PSP onto the Star 48BV rocket motor on July 11.

The third stage Star 48 BV rocket motor was added as an essential element required to get enough thrust for PSP to leave the influence of the Earth’s gravity field and fly within very close proximity of the sun to carry out its mission to ‘Touch the Sun’.

The stack was then encapsulated inside the bisector fairing at Astrotech on July 16, 2018.

The triple stick ULA Delta IV Heavy is the worlds largest operational launch vehicle and United Launch Alliance (ULA) was selected by NASA as the launch provider several years ago.   

“The Delta IV Heavy, Parker Solar Probe will use a third stage rocket to gain the speed needed to reach the Sun, which takes 55 times more energy than reaching Mars,” says NASA.

The PSP convoy reached pad 37 after midnight Tuesday morning, July 31.

The next step was to mount the satellite stack on top of the Delta IV Heavy rocket inside the Mobile Service Tower (MST) to carry out the science mission.

Technicians then quickly got to work and hoisted the PSP payload stack and integrated it on top of the already waiting two-stage approximately 179 foot tall (55 meter tall) Delta IV Heavy stack comprising two stages.

The MST stands 330 feet (100 meter) tall and is easily visible from multiple vantage points in the Florida Space Coast region.

The two stage Delta IV Heavy stack had already completed a pair of critical Wet Dress Rehearsal (WDR) exercises conducted by engineers and technicians on July 2 and July 6 to ensure that the rocket will be ready for the blastoff now currently targeted for August 11 – as I reported here earlier.

Check out our exclusive Space UpClose photos of the two stage Delta IV Heavy stack on the pad after the WDRs were successfully concluded.

“I’m very happy to say that Solar Probe is in the fairing and is on top of the Delta IV Heavy as of 12 Noon today,” said Nicky Fox, Parker Solar Probe’s project scientist at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, which developed the mission for NASA, at a live media briefing held earlier at the University of Chicago.

“It was hoisted up this morning.”

“I think it’s fair to say that Parker Solar Probe is go for the sun.”

The key goals are to try and answer fundamental questions about the nature of the sun and development an understanding of how the sun works – such as why is the solar corona so hot. Its much hotter than the suns surface.

Scientists also want to know why the solar wind is accelerated to supersonic speeds.

NASA’s Parker Solar Probe will fly ‘Where no Earth probe has gone before!’

“Throughout its seven-year mission, NASA’s Parker Solar Probe will swoop through the Sun’s atmosphere 24 times, getting closer to our star than any spacecraft has gone before.”

“Parker  will be the first mission to fly through the sun’s outer atmosphere -- the solar corona -- to examine two fundamental aspects of solar physics: why the corona is so much hotter than the sun’s surface, and what accelerates the solar wind that affects Earth and our solar system. Understanding these fundamental phenomena has been a top-priority science goal for more than five decades. SPP will orbit the sun 24 times, closing to within 3.9 million miles of its surface with the help of seven Venus flybys,” says NASA.

The NASA contract award for the ULA launch services amounts to $389.1 million for a deal signed with the agency in 2015. 

NASA previously used the Delta IV Heavy to launch the Orion EFT-1 test flight.

Otherwise the Delta IV Heavy is utilized to launch the heaviest clandestine payloads for national security purposes for the USAF and NRO.

The Parker Solar Probe is named in honor of astrophysicist Eugene Parker, S. Chandrasekhar Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus, Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics at the University of Chicago, who predicted the existence of the solar wind in groundbreaking papers dating back to the 1958s.

“In 1958, Dr. Gene Parker developed a theory showing how the Sun’s corona is so hot that it overcomes the Sun’s gravity, forming the solar wind,” says NASA.

It was previously known as Solar Probe Plus.

This was the first time NASA named a spacecraft for a living individual.

“This probe will journey to a region humanity has never explored before,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, the associate administrator for the Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “This mission will answer questions scientists have sought to uncover for more than six decades.”

Watch for Ken’s continuing onsite coverage of NASA, SpaceX, ULA, Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Orbital ATK and more space and mission reports direct from the Kennedy Space Center, Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida and Wallops Flight Facility, Virginia.

Stay tuned here for Ken's continuing Earth and Planetary science and human spaceflight news: – – twitter @ken_kremer – email: ken at

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