The spacecraft blasted off in August 2018 and completed its first orbit back in November. That flyby at 213,000 miles per hour took it within 15 million miles of the Sun’s surface and inside the Corona – and now, NASA says the Parker probe is on track for its second approach, which it will reach on April 4.
The Parker probe’s second perihelion – or closest approach to the Sun – will once again bring it about 15 million miles from the Sun. This is almost twice as close as the distance achieved by the previous record holder, Helios 2, which came 27 million miles from the Sun in 1976.
The Parker Solar Probe mission will require 55 times more energy than would be needed to reach Mars, according to NASA. It launched atop a United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy, one of the most powerful rockets in the world, with a third stage attached. But its trajectory and speed are critical in getting to the correct orbit. As Earth is traveling at about 67,000 miles per hour in a direction that’s sideways to the Sun, craft must be launched backward to cancel out the sideways motion.
It will swing around Venus a total of seven times, with each pass slowing it down a bit and pushing it closer and closer to the Sun. This will require a boost from the powerful Delta IV rocket, and it will rely on a series of gravity assists from Venus to slow down its sideways motion, allowing it to get just 3.8 million miles away from the Sun’s surface, making it the only spacecraft to ever venture so close.