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Materials—Taking the heat

NASA’s Parker Solar Probe, shown in this artist’s concept, is scheduled to launch in August to contribute data that may improve the agency’s ability to forecast space weather, which can disrupt communications satellites and power grids, and may demystify why the Sun’s corona is hotter than its surface. Credit: Steve Gribben/NASA, Johns Hopkins APL.

May 1, 2018 – A shield assembly that protects an instrument measuring ion and electron fluxes for a NASA mission to touch the Sun was tested in extreme experimental environments at Oak Ridge National Laboratory—and passed with flying colors. Components aboard Parker Solar Probe, which will endure the heat near the Sun, will get closer to the Sun than prior missions. The ORNL team exposed the shield assembly to a searing 3,227  F for up to 72 hours and simulated solar intensity of 65 watts per square centimeter using ORNL’s Radioisotope Power Systems Program and Plasma-Arc Lamp facilities, respectively. This exceeded the worst conditions that the mission is predicted to experience in the corona. Andrew Driesman, project manager of the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, which designed, built and will operate the spacecraft for NASA, said, “ORNL’s support was crucial in completing our testing on time by helping to solve difficult materials and technical challenges.”