ULA To Launch NASA’s Mission To The Sun

Artist’s impression of NASA’s Solar Probe Plus spacecraft on approach to the sun. Set to launch in 2018, Solar Probe Plus will orbit the sun 24 times, closing in with the help of seven Venus flybys. Image Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory

Artist’s impression of NASA’s Solar Probe Plus spacecraft on approach to the sun. Set to launch in 2018, Solar Probe Plus will orbit the sun 24 times, closing in with the help of seven Venus flybys. Image Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory

March 18, 2015 – NASA has selected United Launch Alliances (ULA) of Centennial, Colorado, to provide launch services for the agency’s Solar Probe Plus (SPP) mission.

The SPP spacecraft will launch aboard a Delta IV Heavy rocket from Space Launch Complex 37 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. Launch is targeted for July 31, 2018, at the opening of a 20-day launch period. The total contract award amount for launch services is $389.1 million.

SPP will be the first mission to fly through the sun’s outer atmosphere – the solar corona – to examine two fundamental aspects of solar physics: why the corona is so much hotter than the sun’s surface, and what accelerates the solar wind that affects Earth and our solar system. Understanding these fundamental phenomena has been a top-priority science goal for more than five decades. SPP will orbit the sun 24 times, closing to within 3.9 million miles of its surface with the help of seven Venus flybys.

The Solar Probe Plus science objectives will be addressed through a combination of in situ and remote-sensing observations made from an orbit slightly above the ecliptic plane — the “line” on which most planets orbit the Sun — and at progressively closer distances to the Sun. The spacecraft will reach its closest distance, at 8.5 times the radius of the Sun, roughly 6½ years after launch.

The University of Colorado’s Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics will provide the Digital Fields Board (DFB) for the SPP Fields Experiment. LASP scientists Robert Ergun and David Malaspina will serve as co-principal investigators for the SPP Fields Experiment.

The SPP Fields Experiment will make direct measurements of electric and magnetic fields, radio emissions, and shock waves that course through the Sun’s atmospheric plasma. The experiment also serves as a giant dust detector, registering voltage signatures when specks of space dust hit anywhere on the exposed surface area of the spacecraft.

The DFB will process electric field data and search coil magnetometer data up to 64 kHz. The board will provide analog and digital filtering of these signals, digitize these electric and magnetic field signals, perform spectral and cross spectral calculations, and act as a dust detector by counting voltage spikes.

The Launch Services Program at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida is responsible for management and oversight of the Delta IV Heavy launch services for SPP. The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory is designing and building the spacecraft for NASA’s Living with a Star Program, managed by the agency’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.