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Smithsonian, Draper Developing New Sensor for NASA's Solar Probe Plus Mission to the Sun

Apr 03, 2017 01:14 PM EDT
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The sun may be one of the most elusive bodies to study due to its extreme temperature. Despite that, NASA and the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory (SAO) partnered to study the Sun's atmosphere and its solar winds with the help of a Draper Technology.

Solar winds are the energy emitted by the sun. It is so powerful that it has the capability to affect the planet's power grids, aircraft and even satellites. Solar winds could be damaging due to the radiation it contains. Everyone is vulnerable to solar winds and radiation including astronauts, spacecraft and even celestial bodies.

This is the reason why the study of solar winds is vital. The study aims to understand why the sun emits such damaging energetic charge to help people on earth accurately predict and swiftly prepare for an upcoming surge.

SAO and Draper are developing new "sophisticated" sensors for NASA's Solar Probe Plus spacecraft scheduled for launch in 2018. The technology is expected to enhance man's capacity to understand solar winds and the sun's atmosphere in general.

John Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory is responsible for developing NASA's Solar Probe Spacecraft. It is expected to withstand a temperature of more than 2,500 degrees Fahrenheit. It will travel for seven years at 37.6 million and will approach the sun 4 million miles from the surface -- a distance that no man-made vehicle has ever done before.

The close approach will allow the Solar Probe Plus to collect data that will help provide information about the mechanisms that heat the corona and accelerate solar winds. The two vital processes are responsible for the solar winds that affect the Earth and other bodies in the solar system.

SAO will carry a Faraday cup supported by Draper and operated by the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. The Faraday cup is capable of measuring supersonic solar particles and radiation.

"Such a mission would require a spacecraft and instrumentation capable of withstanding extremes of radiation, high-velocity travel and the harsh solar condition and that is the kind of program deeply familiar to Draper and the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory," Seamus Tuohy, Director of the Space Systems Program Office at Draper said.

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