NASA called off the launch of its ambitious Parker Solar Probe mission to the sun just minutes before an early-morning liftoff Saturday (Aug. 11) due to a glitch with the spacecraft’s giant Delta IV Heavy rocket.
Engineers “scrubbed” takeoff at the last second for as-yet unknown reasons. It has been rescheduled for Sunday morning instead.
The car-sized satellite was due to blast into space from Cape Canaveral, Florida, at 4.28am eastern time (9.28am BST) but millions of viewers watching online were left disappointed as nothing happened.
“This morning’s launch of @NASASun’s #ParkerSolarProbe was scrubbed,” Nasa tweeted. “Launch teams will attempt to launch on Sunday morning.”
Over the next seven years, it will dip directly into the Sun’s roasting hot outer atmosphere in a bid to unlock some of the solar system’s greatest secrets.
In particular, scientist hope Parker will provide information about solar winds and solar energy particles.
The craft will endure temperatures of more than 1,300C while looping round the Sun a planned 24 times and sending its data back to Earth. At some points, it will move to just 3.83 million miles from the star’s broiling surface.
“I realise that might not sound that close, but imagine the Sun and the Earth were a metre apart. Parker Solar Probe would be just 4cm away from the Sun,” Dr Nicky Fox, the British-born project scientist, told the BBC. “We’ll also be the fastest human-made object ever, travelling around the Sun at speeds of up to 430,000mph – New York to Tokyo in under a minute.”
Scientists have sought the answers that the Parker Solar Probe should give for 60 years, and the origins of the mission began in the Nineties. But it has now been enabled by the breakthroughs in thermal engineering that will allow the small probe to survive despite the blazing heat it will be subject to.