NASA’s Parker Solar Probe zoomed past Venus on Aug. 21, using the planet’s gravity to aim toward a record-setting series of flights around the Sun that start next month. The spacecraft was moving at a speed of 15 miles per second, and passed 2,487 miles above the Venusian surface as it curved around the planet. The mission operations team at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory in Maryland kept in contact with the spacecraft during the flyby through NASA’s Deep Space Network and determined that it was on course and functioning properly.
Except for an 8 minute period when Venus blocked communication between the spacecraft and Earth, the mission operations team were able to successfully monitor and track the probe’s progress. The flyby marks a significant step towards Parker Solar Probe’s goal of exploring the Sun’s atmosphere, and hopefully uncovering answers to some of its biggest mysteries.
Nick Pinkine, Parker Solar Probe mission operations manager from APL, recently announced that Parker Solar Probe remains on track to make its closest flybys yet of the Sun. He expressed his pride in the mission team, especially the mission operators who have worked hard over the past five years to ensure smooth operations of this incredible spacecraft with a history-making mission. Venus gravity assists are a crucial part of Parker Solar Probe’s journey, as the planet reduces its orbital energy to allow it to travel closer to the Sun. Since 2018, it has been exploring the origins and unlocking the secrets of the solar wind and other properties of the near-Sun environment at their source.
The Parker mission’s sixth of seven planned Venus gravity assists served as an orbit maneuver to reduce the spacecraft’s speed by 5,932 miles per hour (9,547 kilometers per hour). This maneuver changed the spacecraft’s orbit and set Parker Solar Probe up for its next five close passes by the Sun, with the first occurring on Sept. 27. During each close approach, Parker Solar Probe will break its own records for speed and distance when it comes to within 4.5 million miles (7.3 million kilometers) from the solar surface at 394,800 miles per hour. Developed as part of NASA’s Living With a Star program, Parker Solar Probe was designed, built, and operated by the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate.