For the first time in history, NASA will be sending a spacecraft to plunge into the atmosphere of our solar system’s star, the sun. NASA announced late yesterday that it is in the planning stages for the mission to travel an unprecedented four million miles from the visible surface of the sun. Anticipated to launch no later than 2018, the mission entitled “Solar Probe Plus” will travel closer to the sun than any mission in history.
The spacecraft will only be about the size of an average car, and will have to be designed in such a way that it can withstand temperatures over 2,550 degrees Fahrenheit. It will also have to survive extreme blasts of radiation. The craft will make use of a new carbon-composite heat shield technology, NASA scientists say.
The spacecraft will focus on two major investigations while on its mission. It is designed to gather data that will help scientists answer why the sun’s outer atmosphere is so much hotter than the surface that is visible, and it will also investigate the solar wind that the sun generates.
The mission is moving on from the proposal stage, which began last year. The project is expected to cost about “$180 million for preliminary analysis, design, development and tests,” according to the announcement. NASA also stated that the mission is “part of NASA's Living with a Star Program. The program is designed to understand aspects of the sun and Earth's space environment that affect life and society.”