NASA Selects Investigations For First Mission To Encounter The Sun

WASHINGTON -- NASA has begun development of a mission to visit and
study the sun closer than ever before. The unprecedented project,
named Solar Probe Plus, is slated to launch no later than 2018.

The small car-sized spacecraft will plunge directly into the sun's
atmosphere approximately four million miles from our star's surface.
It will explore a region no other spacecraft ever has encountered.
NASA has selected five science investigations that will unlock the
sun's biggest mysteries.

"The experiments selected for Solar Probe Plus are specifically
designed to solve two key questions of solar physics -- why is the
sun's outer atmosphere so much hotter than the sun's visible surface
and what propels the solar wind that affects Earth and our solar
system? " said Dick Fisher, director of NASA's Heliophysics Division
in Washington. "We've been struggling with these questions for
decades and this mission should finally provide those answers."

As the spacecraft approaches the sun, its revolutionary
carbon-composite heat shield must withstand temperatures exceeding
2550 degrees Fahrenheit and blasts of intense radiation. The
spacecraft will have an up close and personal view of the sun
enabling scientists to better understand, characterize and forecast
the radiation environment for future space explorers.

NASA invited researchers in 2009 to submit science proposals. Thirteen
were reviewed by a panel of NASA and outside scientists. The total
dollar amount for the five selected investigations is approximately
$180 million for preliminary analysis, design, development and tests.

The selected proposals are:

-- Solar Wind Electrons Alphas and Protons Investigation: principal
investigator, Justin C. Kasper, Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory
in Cambridge, Mass.

This investigation will specifically count the most abundant particles
in the solar wind -- electrons, protons and helium ions -- and
measure their properties. The investigation also is designed to catch
some of the particles in a special cup for direct analysis.

-- Wide-field Imager: principal investigator, Russell Howard, Naval
Research Laboratory in Washington. This telescope will make 3-D
images of the sun's corona, or atmosphere. The experiment actually
will see the solar wind and provide 3-D images of clouds and shocks
as they approach and pass the spacecraft. This investigation
complements instruments on the spacecraft providing direct
measurements by imaging the plasma the other instruments sample.

-- Fields Experiment: principal investigator, Stuart Bale, University
of California Space Sciences Laboratory in Berkeley, Calif. This
investigation will make direct measurements of electric and magnetic
fields, radio emissions, and shock waves that course through the
sun's atmospheric plasma. The experiment also serves as a giant dust
detector, registering voltage signatures when specks of space dust
hit the spacecraft's antenna.

-- Integrated Science Investigation of the Sun: principal
investigator, David McComas of the Southwest Research Institute in
San Antonio. This investigation consists of two instruments that will
take an inventory of elements in the sun's atmosphere using a mass
spectrometer to weigh and sort ions in the vicinity of the spacecraft.

-- Heliospheric Origins with Solar Probe Plus: principal investigator,
Marco Velli of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif.
Velli is the mission's observatory scientist, responsible for serving
as a senior scientist on the science working group. He will provide
an independent assessment of scientific performance and act as a
community advocate for the mission.

"This project allows humanity's ingenuity to go where no spacecraft
has ever gone before," said Lika Guhathakurta, Solar Probe Plus
program scientist at NASA Headquarters, in Washington. "For the very
first time, we'll be able to touch, taste and smell our sun."

The Solar Probe Plus 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. The program
is managed by NASA'S Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.,
with oversight from NASA's Science Mission Directorate's Heliophysics
Division. The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in
Laurel, Md., is the prime contractor for the spacecraft.

For more information about the Solar Probe Plus mission, visit:


For more information about the Living with a Star Program, visit:


Source: NASA

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