When NASA built the Solar Parker Probe to embark on its mission to study the Sun, they knew it’d need to be built with bleeding-edge technology to make it resistant to the extreme temperatures.
To do this, NASA created a four-inch thick carbon carbon foam heat shield with two thin carbon carbon face sheets that would act as an insulator. The foam layer is about 97% air, which makes it very light and flexible. One of the two face sheets was plasma coated with a white alumina surface to reflect as much of the Sun’s light away as possible.
In addition to the innovations used to produce the Parker Solar Probe’s unique heat shield, NASA knew the spacecraft would be too far away from Earth for any split-second maneuvers. There’s about 8 minutes’ worth of latency before any light from the Sun reaches Earth, and the same can be said about radio signals from the Parker Solar Probe.
With that in mind, NASA built sensors into the Parker Solar Probe that will always face away from the Sun. If any of these sensors pick up sunlight, the Parker Solar Probe is programmed to perform its own maneuvers to re-orient itself in the proper position, ensuring that the analytical science instruments onboard aren’t damaged.
Without a doubt, it will be interesting to see what we can learn about the Sun when the Parker Solar Probe sends its first batch of scientific research back to Earth. Scientists expect to learn more about the Sun’s corona, solar storms, temperature, and various other things that are challenging to observe from afar.