NASA solar probe gets unique heat shield

Ahead of its August launch, NASA’s Parker Solar Probe — aiming to get the closest ever to the sun — has got its “revolutionary” heat shield permanently attached to the spacecraft, the U.S. space agency said.

The shield will help the spacecraft remain safe as it collects data about the inner workings of the corona.

The shield, with a diameter of 2.4 metres, protects instruments within its umbra, the shadow it casts on the spacecraft, NASA said.

At Parker Solar Probe’s closest approach to the sun, temperatures on the heat shield will reach nearly 1,371 degrees Celsius, but the spacecraft and its instruments will be kept at a temperature of about 30 degrees Celsius.

The heat shield is made of two panels of superheated carbon composite sandwiching a lightweight 11.5 cm thick carbon foam core.

The sun-facing side of the shield is also sprayed with a specially formulated white coating to reflect as much of the sun’s energy away from the spacecraft.

Because Parker Solar Probe travels very fast — 6,92,018 km per hour at its closest approach to the Sun, the shield and spacecraft have to be light to achieve orbit.

The heat shield itself weighs only about 72.5 kg, as its foam core is 97% air.

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