Parker Solar Probe to make closest flyby of Venus this month

The Parker Solar Probe will use Venus' gravity to tighten its orbit around the Sun during the close approach.
Mrigakshi Dixit
Artist’s concept of Parker Solar Probe.
Artist’s concept of Parker Solar Probe.

NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center 

NASA’s Parker Solar Probe will conduct its sixth close Venus flyby on Monday, August 21. 

As per NASA's blog, the mission control team at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Laurel sent a series of commands that enabled the spacecraft to perform a short and precise maneuver on August 3.

The Sun-orbiting probe used its small thrusters for only 4.5 seconds, allowing it to fine-tune its speed and direction to approach Venus.

This advanced the spacecraft's trajectory by 77 miles (124 kilometers) and increased its speed by 1.4 seconds, propelling it to swing close to the Sun's second planet. 

“Parker’s velocity is about 8.7 miles per second, so in terms of changing the spacecraft’s speed and direction, this trajectory correction maneuver may seem insignificant. However, the maneuver is critical to get us the desired gravity assist at Venus, which will significantly change Parker’s speed and distance to the Sun,” said Yanping Guo, mission design and navigation manager at APL, in the NASA blog. 

Flyby will enable spacecraft to fly near the Sun's surface

The Parker Probe will take advantage of the planet's gravity to tighten its orbit around the Sun during its close approach. Simply put, the probe's orbit will enable it to go far closer to the Sun's surface. 

The spacecraft will encounter the Sun from a distance of roughly 4.5 million miles (7.2 million kilometers) while traveling at 394,742 miles per hour. 

According to NASA, Parker will break its speed and solar distance records during this flyby. The probe successfully made its closest visit to the Sun in June, getting within 5.3 million miles (8.3 million kilometers) of the solar surface.

Following this, NASA intends to do another Venus flyby, bringing Parker extremely near to the Sun – approximately 3.9 million miles (6.2 million km). For reference, Earth is located at a whopping distance of 93 million miles (149 million km) away from our home star. 

Parker will reach a top speed of around 430,000 miles per hour (700,000 kilometers per hour) during this flyby, which is scheduled for 2024. Fast enough to cover the distance between New York and Tokyo in less than a minute.

According to experts, each such near encounter offers a unique opportunity to collect data as well as learn more about the dynamics of this hot, giant ball of plasma and its impact on the solar system.

Launched in 2018 

This probe, launched in 2018, scored a significant mission milestone in 2021 when it became the first spacecraft to "touch" the magnificent Sun. It traveled through the corona, or top atmosphere, of our star. 

Parker is protected with an advanced four-inch-thick shield to withstand the scorching heat and radiation coming from the Sun. Since its launch, it has advanced the space community's understanding of the Sun's activity like never before. 

Through this mission, scientists seek to unravel enigmas surrounding the Sun, such as the heightened temperature of the corona compared to the surface. They also intend to extensively study the ever-changing solar wind, which propels a torrent of intensely charged particles into outer space.

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