In a bid to unlock the mysteries of the corona, NASA has announced its first mission to fly directly into the sun’s atmosphere.

NASA’s upcoming sun-studying mission has been renamed the Parker Solar Probe, agency officials announced today (May 31).

The new name honors pioneering University of Chicago astrophysicist Eugene Parker. In 1958 he predicted the existence of the solar wind (the stream of charged particles flowing constantly from the sun).

Launching will happen in 2018, and it will use seven Venus flybys over nearly seven years. Thus, gradually shrinking its orbit around the sun, coming well within the orbit of Mercury and about eight times closer than any spacecraft has come before.

The closest approach of the Parker Solar Probe, will be around the sun at approximately 450,000 miles per hour.

Nasa announced its plans during an event at the University of Chicago’s William Eckhardt Research Centre Auditorium on May 31.

The determined $1.5 billion Parker Solar Probe mission is scheduled to soar to solar orbit atop a United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy rocket from Kennedy Space Center in Florida on July 31, 2018.

On the next seven years, the ambitious spacecraft will perform 24 flybys of the sun. Some of which will bring it within just 3.9 million miles (6.2 million kilometers) of the solar surface.

Dealing with high temperatures.
The spacecraft will explore in extreme environment. During its closest encounters, the 10-foot-long (3 meters) Parker Solar Probe is expected to experience temperatures of up to 2,500 degrees Fahrenheit (1,370 degrees Celsius) and solar radiation intensities 475 times greater than we’re used to on Earth. 

The spacecraft will perform a number of tasks. It will measure the sun’s electric and magnetic fields, photograph solar structure and study the solar wind.

In addition, the spacecraft and its instruments will be protected from the sun’s heat by a 4.5-inch-thick carbon-composite shield.