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“The spacecraft will go close enough to the sun to watch the solar wind speed up from subsonic to supersonic, and it will fly though the birthplace of the highest energy solar particles.
And, as with all missions of discovery, Solar Probe is likely to raise more questions than it answers.”
NASA calls on APL to send a probe to the sun
The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory is sending a spacecraft closer to the sun than any probe has ever gone - and what it finds could revolutionize what we know about our star and the solar wind that influences everything in our solar system.
APL will design and build the spacecraft, on a schedule to launch in 2015. The compact, solar-powered probe would weigh about 1,000 pounds; preliminary designs include a 9-foot-diameter, 6-inch-thick, carbon-foam-filled solar shield atop the spacecraft body. Two sets of solar arrays would retract or extend as the spacecraft swings toward or away from the sun during several loops around the inner solar system, making sure the panels stay at proper temperatures and power levels. At its closest passes the spacecraft must survive solar intensity more than 500 times what spacecraft experience while orbiting Earth.