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

The probe is heading up on Nasa's most powerful rocket

The probe is heading up on Nasa's most powerful rocket

Technical problems meant the spacecraft missed the launch window early Saturday morning.

The launch is now planned for Sunday, Aug. 12 at 3:31a.m EDT from Space Launch Complex-37 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

The reason for the delay was not immediately clear, but was called for after a gaseous helium alarm was sounded in the last moments before the lift off, according to the officials.

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". The next launch window opens tomorrow morning.

Among the questions NASA is seeking to answer are why the corona is hotter than the sun's surface, as well as why the atmospheres is continually expanding and continually accelerating away from the star.

But these solar outbursts are poorly understood.

It will travel about 4 million miles from the sun's surface, seven times closer than any spacecraft before it.

The probe is protected by an ultra-powerful heat shield that is just 4.5 inches (11.43 centimeters) thick.

The heat shield is built to withstand radiation equivalent up to about 500 times the Sun's radiation here on Earth.

The probe is equipped with a 4 1/2-inch thick carbon-carbon heat shield created to withstand temperatures of about 2,500 degrees Fahrenheit.

On each close approach to the sun, the probe will sample the solar wind, study the sun's corona, and provide close-up observations from around the star.

The probe is named after Gene Parker, who in 1958 wrote a paper theorizing the expansion of the solar atmosphere and solar wind.

The probe will be controlled from the Mission Operations Centre based at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (JHU APL), which is where NASA handles its unmanned missions.

At Parker Solar Probe's closest approach to the Sun, temperatures on the heat shield will reach almost 1,371 degrees Celsius, but the spacecraft and its instruments will be kept at a relatively comfortable temperature of about 29.4 degrees Celsius.

Parker, now 91, recalled that at first some people did not believe in his theory.

The probe is going to fly directly into the sun's atmosphere and trace the movement of energy and heat with the particles that form solar winds.

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