CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. -- One of NASA's biggest missions of the year takes off from Florida's Space Coast in less than 24 hours.
- Parker Solar Probe launch is one of NASA's biggest missions
- Large ULA Delta IV Heavy to blast off with probe early Saturday
- Probe to head into sun's corona, gather data on particles, winds
- LAUNCH SCHEDULE: Upcoming launches from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Kennedy Space Center
- DESTINATION SPACE: Full coverage of NASA and space news from Spectrum News
United Launch Alliance is preparing to launch a Delta IV Heavy rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station early Saturday morning.
The powerful rocket is needed to propel the payload, NASA's Parker Solar Probe, to the sun.
The probe will plunge through the sun's atmosphere, called the corona, to gather data to help us understand what part of the sun is providing the energy source for solar winds, solar particles and how they accelerate to such high speeds.
At its closest approach, the probe will be 3.9 million miles from the sun's surface -- closer than any spacecraft in history.
NASA scientists also hope to answer one ongoing mystery: why the sun's atmosphere is 300 times hotter than the surface itself.
Solar winds create the Earth's aurora borealis, but they also can be harmful to astronauts in space and impact communication on Earth.
"It can impact our technology, it disrupts our communications, it can knock out satellites, it creates a hazardous environment for astronauts, and it also can even impact our power grids here on Earth," NASA heliophysicist Alex Young said. "We're a technological society, so we have to understand this to better understand its impact and ultimately to be able to predict it just like we do weather on Earth."
It won't take long for the Parker probe to reach the sun, thanks to a gravity assist from Venus
"We're using Venus to help slow us down, to allow us to get into a new orbit," Young said. "Our first fly-by to Venus is in the fall, in September. We're actually making our first pass of the sun in November, getting our first data back by hopefully December," he said.
The probe will conduct 24 orbits to approach the sun. Its closest approach will be in 2024. That's the same year the U.S. will experience another total solar eclipse, and you’ll be able to see the region of the sun where the Parker probe will be.
The Delta IV Heavy's launch window opens at 3:33 a.m. Saturday.
You can watch it live on Spectrum News, or stream it live on our website and mobile devices.