NASA's Parker Solar Probe, the space giant's first-ever mission to "touch" the Sun, has brought its instruments and secondary systems online slightly ahead of schedule, as it speeds away from Earth.
The spacecraft, which is about the size of a small car, will travel directly into the Sun's atmosphere about four million miles from the surface. It was launched aboard a Delta IV-Heavy rocket from Cape Canaveral, on 12th August at 3:30 in the morning.
As of midday on 4th September, the Parker Solar Probe was more than 15 million miles from Earth, travelling at about 44,700 miles per hour, NASA announced on Wednesday.
"The spacecraft continues to perform as designed, and thanks to the team's careful planning and execution, we're commissioning instruments slightly ahead of schedule," said the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory's Parker Solar Probe project manager, Andy Driesman.
It's been quite the ride for the probe over the last few weeks.
Last Friday, on 31st August, flight controllers at APL in Laurel, Maryland performed a second planned Trajectory Correction Manoeuvre, a thruster burn which lasted for seven minutes and five seconds.
This manoeuvre, which NASA said was 'executed with a high degree of precision', adjusted the direction of the spacecraft to position it for its Venus flyby on 3rd October. It will then use Venus' gravity to shed speed and draw its orbit closer to the Sun in preparation for its first solar approach.
By 2nd September, the probe deployed four two-meter electric field antennas, part of the FIELDS instrument suite. These antennas need to be extended away from the spacecraft to accurately measure the electric fields of the corona. These four antennas are not protected by Parker Solar Probe's Thermal Protection System, or heat shield, so they are made of niobium C-103, a high-temperature alloy that can withstand the intense solar heat.
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