NASA's Parker Solar Probe - a robotic spacecraft launched in 2018 and tasked with observing the outer corona of the Sun - has already approached the Sun twice, and is close to performing its third approach.
In a recent mission update, NASA has said that the probe's telecommunications system is performing better than they had expected. This means that more data will be beamed down to Earth and potentially more scientific discovery.
As NASA report in a blog update, their Parker Solar Probe completed its second solar encounter just over a month ago. After the mission, 22 gigabytes - collected throughout the first two encounters - of science data was beamed back to mission control at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory, or APL, in Laurel, Maryland.
These 22 gigabytes of data constitute 50% more than the team had predicted and would be downlinked from the space probe by this stage of the mission.
What's more, NASA says the team is taking advantage of this higher downlink rate to maximize the scientific data they retrieve from the probe in the upcoming encounter with the Sun. An additional 25 GB of science data will be downlinked to Earth between July 24 and Aug. 15, the space agency says.
“All of the expected science data collected through the first and second encounters is now on the ground,” Nickalaus Pinkine, Parker Solar Probe mission operations manager at APL, said in the NASA post.
“As we learned more about operating in this environment and these orbits, the team did a great job of increasing data downloads of the information gathered by the spacecraft’s amazing instruments.”
Understanding solar wind
The Parker Solar Probe launched on August 11 from Cape Canaveral, Florida. As per Space.com, it will study the way heat and energy move through the Sun's corona.
This will hopefully allow a better understanding of what accelerates solar winds and how these winds affect our planet.
The probe takes its name from Eugene Parker, who was the first to create a hypothesis around what is now known as solar wind: Parker observed that high-speed matter and magnetism is constantly escaping the sun and that it has an effect on the planets and space of our solar system.
NASA will release the Parker Solar Probe findings, and data, to the public later this year.