Parker Solar Probe sets new distance and speed records on solar slingshot
NASA's Parker Solar Probe has set a new pair of records after it survived its 10th close encounter with the Sun. On November 21, 2021 at 4:25 am EST (08:25 GMT), the robotic deep-space explorer came within 5.3 million miles (8.5 million km) of the Sun's surface and reached a speed of 363,660 mph (586,864 km/h), making it both the closest satellite to survive such a near pass of the Sun and the fastest-ever artificial object.
The Parker Solar Probe was launched on August 12, 2018 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station atop a Delta IV Heavy rocket, and this latest solar flyby between November 16 and 26 marks the halfway point in the spacecraft's seven-year mission to study the Sun at such close quarters that it will eventually fly through the Sun's corona.
Having easily beaten the record holder, the Helios-2 spacecraft and its maximum speed of 157,078 mph (252,792 km/h), Parker is now in a league of its own. Its latest speed record beats its own previous record, as will be the case for the future record speeds the probe is expected to reach in later flybys.
This 10th encounter is one of 24 increasingly closer orbits to the Sun using the gravitational pull of Venus in a series of seven flybys, eventually coming within 4.3 million miles (6.9 million km) of the surface of our star and reaching speeds of over 430,000 mph (690,000 km/h). The craft is heavily shielded against heat and radiation, but it is still susceptible to damage and builds up a dangerous electrical charge from solar radiation, so its orbit is highly elliptical to allow it to recover between close encounters and to transmit recorded sensor data back to Earth about the Sun's corona, magnetic field, and the dynamics of solar energetic particles.
According to NASA and mission operators at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland, the spacecraft is in good health and operating normally, and will begin transmitting its findings on December 24 and end on January 9, 2022.