The U.S. space administration (NASA) has announced an ambitious plan that should see a satellite launched towards the Sun by 2018.
The Solar Probe Plus vehicle, once it has completed its 150 million kilometre journey to the star, will be tasked with gathering vital information regarding the Sun's super-hot corona, solar winds and lethal radiation.
The mission is expected to help scientists “characterize and forecast the radiation environment in which future space explorers will work and live,” according to a project outline posted on the official NASA website.
NASA has also explained that the probe's scientific instruments will gather information as the vehicle tucks in its solar wings and plunges directly into the Sun's upper atmosphere – some 6.4 million kilometres above the its surface.
And, in an effort to prolong the probe's life in the face of such intense heat, NASA's satellite will be equipped with carbon-composite shielding technology designed to withstand temperatures of more than 1,400 degrees Celsius (2550 Fahrenheit).
“The experiments selected for Solar Probe Plus are specifically designed to solve two key questions of solar physics: why is the Sun's outer atmosphere so much hotter than the Sun's visible surface, and what propels the solar winds that affects Earth and our Solar System,” commented Dick Fisher, NASA's director of Heliophysics.
“We've been struggling with these questions for decades and this mission should finally provide those answers,” he added.
The Solar Probe Plus, which will be equipped with a solar wind particle detector, a special 3D camera, and magnetic field gauge, is expected to cost somewhere in the region of $180 million USD.