NASA Plans to Launch Mission To Sun by 2018

More
solarprobeplus.png

Despite the February cancellation of a planned return to the moon, NASA announced this week that the space agency would set its sights on a mission to another celestial body: the sun.


The project, dubbed "Solar Probe Plus," will send an unmanned spacecraft into the sun's corona, some four million miles from the surface of the star. The probe, equipped with a revolutionary carbon-composite heat shield, will brave temperatures of up to 2,500 degree Fahrenheit and bursts of solar radiation in order to give scientists an up-close and personal look at the engine of our solar system.

Solar Probe Plus has been in the works for several months; NASA published an announcement of opportunity for scientific investigations in December, inviting researchers to submit project proposals to the agency. The selected proposals, announced this week, include and analysis of the abundance and properties of particles in solar wind, direct measurements of the sun's electric and magnetic fields, and 3-D imaging of the sun's atmosphere. The probe is set to launch in 2018.

Scientists won't have many resources to work with: while NASA made its original call for project proposals in December, a February 18th amendment to the announcement following Obama's scrapping of NASA's moon mission capped the cost of scientific projects at $180 million for analysis, design, development, and testing. The probe's total payload is constrained to 40kg due to the projected size of the unmanned launch vehicle.

Despite these limits, the mission highlights what small, cheap robotic missions can accomplish. "This project allows humanity's ingenuity to go where no spacecraft has ever gone before," said Lika Guhathakurta, a Solar Probe Plus program scientist, in a press release. 'For the very first time, we'll be able to touch, taste, and smell our sun."
Jump to comments
Presented by

Jared Keller is a former associate editor for The Atlantic and The Atlantic Wire and has also written for Lapham's Quarterly's Deja Vu blog, National Journal's The Hotline, Boston's Weekly Dig, and Preservation magazine. 

Get Today's Top Stories in Your Inbox (preview)

The Time JFK Called the Air Force to Complain About a 'Silly Bastard'

51 years ago, President John F. Kennedy made a very angry phone call.


Elsewhere on the web

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register. blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

Adventures in Legal Weed

Colorado is now well into its first year as the first state to legalize recreational marijuana. How's it going? James Hamblin visits Aspen.

Video

What Makes a Story Great?

The storytellers behind House of CardsandThis American Life reflect on the creative process.

Video

Tracing Sriracha's Origin to Thailand

Ever wonder how the wildly popular hot sauce got its name? It all started in Si Racha.

Video

Where Confiscated Wildlife Ends Up

A government facility outside of Denver houses more than a million products of the illegal wildlife trade, from tigers and bears to bald eagles.

Video

Is Wine Healthy?

James Hamblin prepares to impress his date with knowledge about the health benefits of wine.

Video

The World's Largest Balloon Festival

Nine days, more than 700 balloons, and a whole lot of hot air

Writers

Up
Down

More in Technology

Just In