NASA’s mission to ‘touch’ the Sun rounded the corner just inside Earth’s orbit to begin its second orbit around our star. It’s the second of 24 planned trips around the Sun. Each one taking the Parker Solar Probe closer and closer.
In April, the probe’s perihelion (closest point to the Sun) for this orbit will be about 15 million miles. The ultimate goal is to get the probe just 3.83 million miles from the Sun. This will crush the distance record for the closest spacecraft to the Sun by more than seven times.
A chart from the Parker Solar Probe website shows the spacecraft beginning its second orbit, and how each orbit brings the spacecraft closer to the 3.83 million-mile mark it’s aiming for.
Parker Solar Probe Project Manager Andy Dreisman praised the team’s work on the spacecraft.
“It’s been an illuminating and fascinating first orbit,” Dreisman said in a statement. “We’ve learned a lot about how the spacecraft operates and reacts to the solar environment, and I’m proud to say the team’s projections have been very accurate.”
Project Scientist Nour Raouafi teased us about the early data returns from the probe. “We’ve always said that we don’t know what to expect until we look at the data,” says Raouafi. “The data we have received hints at many new things that we’ve not seen before and at potential new discoveries. Parker Solar Probe is delivering on the mission’s promise of revealing the mysteries of our Sun.”
So far, the probe has beamed back 17 gigabits worth of science data back to Earth. The rest of the dataset from the first orbit should be back on Earth right around the time the probe is reaching its closest point to the Sun on its second orbit.
Right now, the mission team is clearing data from the spacecraft’s solid-state recorder that’s already back on Earth. A new automated command sequence is also being prepped with about one month’s worth of tasks to carry out according to NASA.
The Parker Solar Probe is another mission full of firsts for NASA. It already broke the record for the closest solar approach during its first orbit. The four instruments onboard are also going to help answer longstanding questions about the Sun and probably pose brand new ones scientists haven’t even thought of yet.
Like most NASA missions, patience is the name of the game. The Parker Solar Probe won’t make its closest approaches until 2024 and 2025.
Featured image credit: Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory