A Place in the Sun
Earth dwellers view the sun from 93 million miles away. What will NASA’s next solar probe see from up close?
- By Bruce Dorminey
- Air & Space magazine, May 2008
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The instrument package is expected to include an optical imager, and if that makes the final design cut, the resulting photographs would show the surface of the sun with a clarity unachievable from Earth. "These images would be on the evening news," says McNutt. But he cautions that each instrument's scientific value has to be weighed against the total mission budget. "Are pictures [worth] a quarter of a billion dollars?"
The team has already trimmed its initial cost projections from $1 billion in its 2005 incarnation to a target cap of $750 million. Last July, the Senate Appropriations Committee earmarked $20 million for fiscal year 2008 to fund design tweaks and development for the probe. Part of the craft's high cost stems from the extensive ground-based tests, McNutt notes, designed to simulate the solar system's most extreme thermal environment.
The team presented its research to NASA last February. "We've been able to prove that [the solar probe mission is viable]," said McComas. "Now there's no excuse. It just needs to be done."