This Saturday, the 11th August, NASA will launch the $1.5 billion Parker Solar Probe on a first-of-its-kind mission to ‘touch' the Sun.
Flying closer than any man-made object has ever done (the Helios 2 came within 27 miles of the surface in 1976), the robotic craft will fly through the Sun's 1,400° corona at the end of its 4 million-mile journey.
For its launch, the Parker probe - about the size of a car - will be attached to a United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy expendable rocket; the second most powerful rocket in the world behind SpaceX's Falcon Heavy, which earlier this year carried a Tesla Roadster into space.
From Cape Canaveral, it will travel at 430,000mph - about 125 miles a second - to loop past Venus on the 2nd October. The planet's gravity will slow slow the probe and allow greater control, and it will reach the first perihelion (the point in its orbit when it is closest to the Sun) by the 5th November.
The craft is intended to orbit the Sun 24 times until late 2025, each orbit taking 88 days.
During its seven-year mission, the probe will send back new data on our star's properties and atmospheric conditions. It is specifically designed to gather information on solar winds and coronal masses: the gigantic eruptions of plasma that occasionally jet out from the star's surface.
In that time it will be protected by a 11cm-thick layer of carbon-composite, supposedly keeping inside temperatures down to just 30°.
Although NASA has had plans for such a mission for decades, only recent technological advances have made the flight possible.
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