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John O | July 2018

Innovative heat shield installed on NASA Parker Solar Probe

By Josh Perry, Editor


In June, NASA announced that its innovative heat shield, the Thermal Protection System (TPS), was installed on the Parker Solar Probe, which will soon begin its mission to get as close to the sun as any human-made object in history.


Parker Solar Probe’s heat shield is made of two panels of superheated carbon-carbon composite sandwiching a lightweight 4.5-inch-thick carbon foam core.
(NASA/Johns Hopkins APL/Ed Whitman)


According to the NASA announcement, “A mission 60 years in the making, Parker Solar Probe will make a historic journey to the Sun’s corona, a region of the solar atmosphere. With the help of its revolutionary heat shield, now permanently attached to the spacecraft in preparation for its August 2018 launch, the spacecraft’s orbit will carry it to within four million miles of the Sun's fiercely hot surface, where it will collect unprecedented data about the inner workings of the corona.”


The heat shield is eight feet in diameter and is designed to keep the spacecraft and its delicate instruments at 85°F, despite encountering temperatures closer to 2,500°F as it approaches the sun.


It is constructed from two superheated carbon-carbon composite panels surrounding a 4.5-inch-thick carbon foam core. A specially-formulated white coating will also be sprayed on the exterior to reflect the sun’s energy.


“The heat shield itself weighs only about 160 pounds — here on Earth, the foam core is 97 percent air,” the article added. “Because Parker Solar Probe travels so fast — 430,000 miles per hour at its closest approach to the Sun, fast enough to travel from Philadelphia to Washington, D.C., in about one second — the shield and spacecraft have to be light to achieve the needed orbit.”


This is the second installation of the heat shield (it was briefly installed for testing last year) and means the spacecraft is completely integrated. Separate testing was performed on the components at the Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.


Learn more about the Parker Solar Probe’s mission in the video below:

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