NASA spacecraft sets record for closest approach to sun

Nasa's ambitious Solar Parker Probe (PSP) has just got closer to the solar surface than any other spacecraft in history.

The technology broke the previous record of 26.55 million miles from the Sun on Tuesday, October 29. As of 10:00 a.m. GMT/UTC (5:00 a.m. EDT) on the following day, the probe was 40,350,600 km (25,072,700 mi) from the Sun's surface and closing fast, beating another of Helios 2's records from 1976.

Parker Solar Probe, shown in this animation, became the closest-ever spacecraft to the Sun on October 29, 2018, when it passed within 26.55 million miles of the Sun's surface.

At about 10:54 p.m. EDT, Parker is expected to surpass the record for heliocentric speed, which is 153,454 miles per hour, set by Helios 2 in April 1976.

Parker is expected to beat the Helios 2 heliocentric speed record (measured with respect to the Sun) on 29 October at about 10:54 pm EDT (2:54 UTC, 30 October).

PSP's mission is due to last seven years, with the probe set to fly up to 3.8 million miles (6.1 million km) from the sun's surface - seven times closer than any spacecraft before it.

Launched in August, Parker is on track to set another record late on Monday night.

According to NASA, the spacecraft will face "brutal" heat and radiation conditions "while providing humanity with unprecedentedly close-up observations of a star and helping us understand phenomena that have puzzled scientists for decades".

"These observations will add key knowledge to NASA's efforts to understand the Sun, where changing conditions can propagate out into the solar system, affecting Earth and other worlds".

Although the probe has broken the fastest of all speed records, going fast is just a side-effect of the mission's main goal, which is to get its array of scientific instruments as close to the Sun as possible. It is the first NASA mission to be named after a living individual.

At the same time, the probe has to withstand huge temperatures of up to 1,377 Celsius (2,500 Fahrenheit). The relatively small, 685kg spacecraft needed to achieve a high speed in order to establish an orbit around the Sun-rather than getting drawn into the star's massive gravity well never to escape.