Parker Solar Probe singed but safe after historic close encounter with the Sun
NASA's Parker Solar Probe has reported back alive and well after passing closer to the Sun than any spacecraft in history. At 4:46 pm EST on November 7, 2018, mission control at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Lab confirmed receiving the unmanned craft's status beacon via the space agency's Deep Space Network after it came within 15 million miles (24 million km) of the Sun's surface on November 5.
Launched only a few months ago, the Parker Solar Probe is already a record breaker. On October 29, it came closer to the Sun than the previous record holder, the 1976 German-American Helios 2 spacecraft, and has now set its first personal best by making its closest pass, or perihelion, to our star.
However, this is by no means the end of the mission or of the records. The Parker Solar Probe is currently in an eccentric orbit that will grow tighter and tighter with each revolution, making a total of 24 close encounters with the Sun and eventually skimming through the upper reaches of the solar atmosphere, or corona.
During Monday's encounter, the probe was subjected to heat and radiation never before encountered by a spacecraft, with its sensitive instruments and onboard systems remaining protected behind a state of the art shield. According to NASA, Parker was out of communication with Earth during perihelion because the Sun's much greater power drowned out its signal, but when it came back on line it reported Status "A" or the best of four possible states. This means that all instruments are running and collecting science data, and that any malfunctions were handled autonomously by the onboard systems.
NASA says that during the encounter Parker was traveling at 213,200 mph (343,100 km/h) and the temperature on the sunward side of the heat shield reached 820⁰ F (438⁰ C). When it makes its later approaches, this will rise to 2,500⁰ F (1,371⁰ C).
"Parker Solar Probe was designed to take care of itself and its precious payload during this close approach, with no control from us on Earth — and now we know it succeeded," says Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator of NASA's Science Mission Directorate. "Parker is the culmination of six decades of scientific progress. Now, we have realized humanity's first close visit to our star, which will have implications not just here on Earth, but for a deeper understanding of our universe."
The Parker Solar Probe will reach the end of its first solar encounter phase on November 11. Several weeks later, as it draws away from the Sun, it will begin transferring the data collected.
The video below discusses the first Parker Solar Probe perihelion.