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How the Parker probe was built to survive close encounters with the sun

The tech bound for the sun's atmosphere had to be tested for heat, rattle and cold

HOSTILE ENVIRONMENT The Parker Solar Probe, shown in this artist's illustration, is about to go where no spacecraft has gone before: the sun. To make sure the probe can survive a dip in the solar atmosphere, engineers had to get creative in testing the technology

EmailPrintTwitterFacebookRedditGoogle+ SPONSOR MESSAGE NASA has a mantra for preparing spacecraft to launch: “Test as you fly." The idea is to test the entire spacecraft, fully assembled, in the same environment and configuration that it will see in orb

But the Parker Solar Probe, set to launch August 11, is no ordinary spacecraft (SN Online: 7/5/2018). And it's headed to no ordinary environment. Parker will sweep through the sun's scorching hot atmosphere for humankind's first close encounter with the star at the center of the solar system.

"Solar Probe is a little bit special," says space plasma physicist Stuart Bale of the University of California, Berkeley. Getting the whole kit and caboodle into a setting that simulated the sun's energetic particles, intense light and searing heat "was deemed impossible." Scientists had to get creative to test the technology that will touch the sun, using everything from huge mirrors to dust tunnels to reams of paper.

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