Parker to extend instrument operations in future solar fly-bys


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The engineering and science team for the Parker Solar Probe have decided they can turn on its science instruments for a longer period during future solar fly-bys, and have now done so for its upcoming third approach.

Parker Solar Probe turned on its four instrument suites on Aug. 16, 2019 — earlier than during its previous two solar encounters, extending the observation period from 11 days to about 35 days.

During the spacecraft’s first two solar encounters, the science instruments were turned on when Parker was about 0.25 AU from the Sun and powered off again at the same distance on the outbound side of the orbit. (One AU, or astronomical unit, is about 93 million miles, the average distance between the Sun and Earth.) For this third solar encounter, the mission team turned on the instruments when the spacecraft was around 0.45 AU from the Sun on the inbound side of its orbit and will turn them off when the spacecraft is about 0.5 AU from the Sun on the outbound side.

This decision will allow them to get more data about the solar wind from farther from the Sun.

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11 comments

  • Max

    This is good, more data. Also a good indication that the precautions against destructive power of the sun is working.
    They are turning on instruments near the beginning of mercury’s orbit, we need good info on the conditions there to properly design spacecraft if there will be a colony to mine a lifeless metal rich dense planet one day.
    Because the availability of energy and materials without concern for environmental factors, this will make mercury a “manufacturing center”, second only to the moon in the not so distant future.
    If they figure out how to use helium 3 as an energy source, the moon has enough to fuel the earth for 1000 years. Mercury has enough for 10,000 years… It is the perfect place to do the experimentation to get it right.
    Once the process is perfected, rocket fuel conversion stations on the outer moons rich in methane and ammonia ice will be common place. I’ve been waiting all my life to see this.

  • Lee S

    @ Max…
    No offense intended, but I doubt very much that mercury will be involved in any mining projects in the next millennia…
    It lives in a massive gravity well, the rocket power to get anything back from Mercury would totally outway any profit to fund such a venture…
    The outer solar system is the way to go.
    Falling back towards the sun, rather than fighting against it, with valuable hold full of science results or a cargo of rare earth metals is much more likely than a difficult trip to mercury.
    Let’s open the solar system up, but Mercury is possibly the least accessible planet in the solar system

  • pzatchok

    I just want to see if a small fusion reactor and generator would work in a low gravity situation.

    It would solve all space power problems for the imagined future.

  • David

    @Lee
    As was pointed out to me the last time I commented on how hard it was to reach Mercury, you don’t want to travel there and back on a rocket. But solar powered mass drivers as a mechanism to fling mined ore out where a tug could collect it would be entirely feasible.

  • Col Beausabre

    “small fusion reactor” They’re just around the corner, certainly within the next decade – that what my copy of “My Weekly Reader” said in 1962 when I was ten. Fifty plus years later, controlled fusion is still “just around the corner”. Won’t see it in my lifetime and I come from a long lived clan (Father to 98, Grandfather to 100)

  • Lee S

    @ David…. Good point, but I remain sceptical that it would be feasible… How long would any kind of current solar powered energy generation technology last in the hellish sun bathed side of Mercury?

    From NASA..

    “During the day, temperatures on Mercury’s surface can reach 800 degrees Fahrenheit (430 degrees Celsius). Because the planet has no atmosphere to retain that heat, nighttime temperatures on the surface can drop to minus 290 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 180 degrees Celsius).”

    We can’t even build a solar road that works, let alone something that would function in such temperature’s, and that’s not even taking into account all other forms of radiation.

    I am still of the opinion that astroid mining is so much more practical that Mercury is unlikely to be considered feasible for millennia.

  • Edward

    David, Lee S, and Max:
    Here is a link to a delta-v chart for travel around the solar system.
    http://i.imgur.com/SqdzxzF.png

    Please note that these delta-v amounts are based upon assumptions and the actual numbers would depend upon actual conditions. However, these numbers should give a good idea of what is involved in getting around the solar system. Also, remember that the fuel needed is not proportional to the delta-v number but to the delta-v as used by the rocket equation: proportional to the natural log raised to the delta-v (as modified by engine efficiency/exhaust velocity).
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tsiolkovsky_rocket_equation#Examples

    Once we have left Earth’s gravity (reached escape velocity), we need about 13 km/s delta-v to get to Mercury’s surface and a similar amount to come back. The mass driver idea would be a great help in reducing the amount of fuel needed, but a capture tug could have a challenge catching the ore (or refined minerals). I would expect that high-efficiency ion engines would be the choice for most of these activities.

    The high temperatures certainly would present another challenge. Since Mercury is not tidally locked but has a very long day/night cycle, low temperatures and extended darkness would also be a challenge, but we humans love solving challenges like these.

    Generally, however, we tend to harvest the easier low-hanging fruit first, so I expect that we will mine the Moon and the asteroids before we go after Mercury’s bounty.

  • Lee S

    Thanks for the info Edward!
    On a kind of related subject…. Years ago I had an idea for a mechanical device using the massive temperature differential on airless bodies to generate power.. something along the lines of a hose with a one way valve running in and out of the shadows… The liquid inside expands in the sun and contracts in the dark, and the resulting flow could be used somewhat along the lines of waterwheels during the industrial revolution… No electronics to burn out, and a steady stream of mechanical energy on tap…
    Has anyone ever heard of such a device? Or should I get a patent filed? ;-)

  • Edward

    Lee S,
    You wrote: “I had an idea for a mechanical device using the massive temperature differential on airless bodies to generate power … should I get a patent filed?

    One of the most interesting things to do is your own patent search. You will find all kinds of things that other people have thought up. When you talk to a patent attorney, he should insist upon a professional patent search before spending too much money on the patent application.

    Has anyone ever heard of such a device?

    Not for space or vacuum use, but there is a similar idea for use in Earth’s oceans:
    https://www.explainthatstuff.com/how-otec-works.html

  • Max

    Edward, Lee S;
    I agree that the moon, the astroid belt and the Jovian moon’s will be the first to be mined.
    There is ice near Jupiter we can use for fuel as long as we have a plentiful energy source. Helium three was suggested as a energy packed futuristic safe supply and a reason to inhabit mercury. There may be other reasons we’re not aware of yet.
    Mars has a supply of fuel in the ice caps but is in a steep gravity well.
    The astroids is likely to only have a trace supply for refueling but has the advantage of gravity to bring ore load back to Earth.
    (This would only occur for a short time before the astroid miners realize that they need the ore and manufacturing at their location more than earth needs it)
    Mercury is near .5 AU from earth with Venus atmosphere to do the “air braking” too slow a craft down. With no fuel on mercury, The return trip would be problematic. Once a colony is established, who would want to leave?
    A mass driver would work great in this application, but would be slow unless it had a powerful nuclear engine. That said, the fuel requirements for .5 AU would be similar with less gravity to the 2 to 4 AU for the astroid belt and the 5 AU to Jupiter. The fuel consumption ratios will not be comparable, not because of gravity closer to the sun, so much as the time it takes to go 10 times the distance to Jupiter. People are impatient and have a limited lifespan. They will consume more fuel before their health gives out in “no” gravity.
    A Safe, energy dense fuel supply is still science-fiction… But I have been dreaming of this since I was a child watching the astronaut’s in their moon buggy on TV.

    To create power from the sun on mercury, solar panels take more energy to make um then they will ever create in their lifespan. They have useful applications but this is not one of them.
    removing oxygen from the silicate on the surface and combining it with the hydrogen from the solar wind will build and collect enough water to run a steam driven power plant in the “800° on the surface and 300° below zero in the shade”. A technology that all humans are very familiar with and will work on the moon with mirror assist, and on Mercury even better. There is also the power generated by differential heating in the thermal pile effect. Heat flowing from hot to cold producing electricity directly in silicon chips?
    Other than earth, nowhere in the solar system can humans live on the surface, so underground or in metal containers is a given.
    Rock is the best protection from radiation, water is the next best thing and can be used to drive a turban to power ore hunter’s monster wheels, in low gravity, across the surface of mercury to keep up with its slow rotation. (which may not be likely in the rough cratered surface, but will make a great movie!)

  • pzatchok

    Col Beausabre
    August 19, 2019 at 5:18 am

    “small fusion reactor” They’re just around the corner, certainly within the next decade – that what my copy of “My Weekly Reader” said in 1962 when I was ten. Fifty plus years later, controlled fusion is still “just around the corner”. Won’t see it in my lifetime and I come from a long lived clan (Father to 98, Grandfather to 100)

    I think it could be done lot easier in space. With its low gravity and lack of atmosphere

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