Mission to the sun

In 2018, NASA plans to launch a spacecraft called Solar Probe Plus to study the sun’s outer atmosphere, or corona, and its expansion into space, known as the solar wind.

Probe will travel within 3.7 million mi. (6 million km) of the sun at 125 miles per second (201 km per second) during its closest pass

Solar Probe Plus
Will weigh about 1,350 lb. (612 kg)

Faraday cup will gather solar wind particles

Thermal shield is to be 8 ft. (2.4 m) in diameter and made of 4.5-inch (11.4 cm) thick ceramic-coated carbon composite to protect instruments from sun’s rays

Electromagnetic wave antenna will measure radio emissions of the sun and solar wind Solar panels will provide power; panels are liquid-cooled to protect them

High-gain antenna will communicate with Earth

Venus orbit

Journey to the sun
Probe will use seven Venus flybys, relying on the gravity of the planet to shrink its orbit each time it circles the sun First close approach 2024 Sun

Magnetometers will measure the sun’s electric and magnetic fields, radio emissions and shock waves

Mercury orbit

Earth Launch 2018

Adjusting to the heat
Probe will adjust to protect itself from temperatures approaching 2,600 F (1,500 C): Solar panels extend when the probe is far from the sun As the probe gets closer, the solar panels will retract Near the sun, all instruments except the Faraday cup and tips of antennas will tuck behind the thermal shield

Solar panel


Earth’s size scaled to sun

How long does it take to reach Earth?
Sunlight 8 minutes Energetic particles 2 to 4 days Solar wind 4 days

Sun Corona

Solar eruption and flare

© 2012 MCT Source: Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory, NASA Graphic: Julie Sheer, Lorena Iniguez Elebee, Los Angeles Times

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