NASA’s Parker Solar Probe, the first mission to “touch” the sun, will travel to about 4 million miles from its surface to study the corona.
NASA plans to try again before dawn Sunday to launch a $1.5 billion mission from Cape Canaveral that aims to send a science probe closer to the sun than any spacecraft before.
A first launch attempt early Saturday scrubbed with less than two minutes to go before liftoff of the Parker Solar Probe on a United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy rocket.
“Hold, hold, hold!” an engineer called out shortly before the planned 4:28 a.m. blastoff from Launch Complex 37, after the rocket’s gaseous helium system tripped an automatic alarm. Saturday’s window closed at 4:38 a.m.
“The team is evaluating that and looking at it,” Mic Woltman, a flight test engineer with NASA’s Launch Services Program, told NASA TV. “Unfortunately we didn’t have enough time this evening to go troubleshoot that and try again for a launch.”
Sunday’s liftoff will be targeted for 3:31 a.m., the opening of another 65-minute window, assuming the helium issue is resolved swiftly.
There’s a 60 percent chance of acceptable weather, according to the Air Force’s 45th Weather Squadron.
Saturday’s bumpy countdown had already been delayed twice before the scrub occurred.
The 65-minute window opened at 3:33 a.m., but the launch time was pushed back 20 minutes after minor issues with ground equipment before a mobile service tower could be rolled back from the rocket, and then concerns about sensor readings that delayed the start of fueling.
As a potential 3:53 a.m. liftoff neared, the launch team was unable to pick up the countdown from a hold at T minus 4 minutes due to an unspecified technical problem.
The issue was cleared and the launch time reset for 4:28 a.m., ultimately to no avail.
The Parker Solar Probe mission must launch by Aug. 23 or else face a delay until next May.
A limited planetary window exists because the mission counts on flybys of Venus to navigate to the sun. The window opened July 31, but the first 11 days were lost to glitches preparing the 1,400-pound spacecraft for launch.
The probe is named for Eugene Parker, a University of Chicago physicist who in 1958 predicted the existence of the solar wind, a constant flow of magnetized solar particles that streams out into the farthest reaches of the solar system.
Parker, now 91, was at Kennedy Space Center for the mission’s first launch attempt.
Over seven years, the Parker probe will perform 24 orbits passing through the sun’s outer atmosphere, or corona, investigating why it is so much hotter than the sun’s surface and what accelerates the solar wind to supersonic speeds.
But the mission’s start must wait at least one more day due to the rocket issues.
“The teams will continue to work this problem and move forward to try to get Parker Solar Probe on its way to the sun,” said Woltman.
Contact Dean at 321-917-4534 or firstname.lastname@example.org. And follow on Twitter at @flatoday_jdean and on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/SpaceTeamGo.
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