Last-minute technical problem delays NASA's flight to sun

Last-minute technical problem delays NASA's flight to sun

The problem with a helium pressurization system could not be resolved in the 10 minutes left in the launch window, forcing ULA to order a 24-hour delay.

This image shows an artist's rendering of the Parker solar probe approaching the sun.

The engineers are taking utmost caution with the $1.5 billion Parker Solar Probe, which Thomas Zurbuchen, head of Nasa's science mission directorate, described as one of the agency's most "strategically important missions".

If the probe doesn't launch on Sunday, the window for a successful launch doesn't close until August 23.

On board the Delta IV Heavy rocket is the Parker Solar Probe on its first mission to the sun.

If it launches successfully at the same time on Sunday, the probe will reach speeds of up to 430,000 miles per hour (700,000 km/h).

The probe is created to plunge into the Sun's mysterious atmosphere, known as the corona, coming within 3.83 million miles (6.16 million kilometres) of its surface during a seven-year mission.

Parker said he was "impressed" by the Parker Solar Probe, calling it "a very complex machine".

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NASA says a red pressure alarm for the gaseous helium system went off, prompting the launch controller to order, "Hold, hold, hold".

The probe was scheduled to take off from Florida's Cape Canaveral at 9.28am United Kingdom time, but just one minute and 55 seconds before launch it was cancelled after a technical fault.

The last time a man-made object came close to the star's surface was in 1976 when Helios 2 achieved perihelion, the point of the orbit at which it was closest to the sun, at 27 million miles.

"We'll be going where no spacecraft has dared go before - within the corona of a star", said project scientist Nicky Fox from Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory.

But getting so close to the Sun requires slowing down - for which Parker will use the gravity of our neighbor planet, Venus.

Sixty years ago, a young astrophysicist at the University of Chicago, Eugene Parker, proposed the existence of solar wind.

Parker's lightweight heat shield is just 4 ½ inches (11 centimeters) thick. "Each time we fly by we get closer and closer to the Sun", Driesman added.

Even in a region where temperatures can reach more than a million degrees Fahrenheit, the sunlight is expected to heat the shield to just around 2,500 deg F (1,371 deg C). It's the first time NASA has named a spacecraft after someone who's still alive.

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