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NASA's 'Solar Probe Plus' to study solar physics


An artistic creation of the Solar Probe Plus spacecraft approaching the Sun. A NASA photo

WASHINGTON (BNS): NASA plans to send a spacecraft that will straightaway plunge into the Sun's atmosphere nearly four million miles from the star's surface to study solar physics.

The small, car-sized spacecraft, called Solar Probe Plus, is being planned for launch in 2018.

The spacecraft will dive directly into the Sun's atmosphere approximately four million miles from our star's surface. It will explore a region no other spacecraft ever has encountered, NASA said.

The space agency has selected five science investigations that will unlock the Sun's biggest mysteries. The total cost for these investigations is approximately $180 million for preliminary analysis, design, development and tests.

“The experiments selected for Solar Probe Plus are specifically designed to solve two key questions of solar physics – why is the Sun's outer atmosphere so much hotter than the Sun's visible surface and what propels the solar wind that affects Earth and our solar system? “ said Dick Fisher, director of NASA's Heliophysics Division in Washington.

The spacecraft will be designed to withstand extreme temperatures exceeding 2550 degrees Farenheit (1398.88 degree Celsius). It will be equipped with a “revolutionary” carbon-composite heat shield to protect it from the high temperature.

The spacecraft will have an up close and personal view of the Sun enabling scientists to better understand, characterise and forecast the radiation environment for future space explorers, NASA said.

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NASA  spacecraft  

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