Parker Solar Probe Instruments

  • Released Wednesday, August 8, 2018


The Solar Wind Electrons Alphas and Protons investigation, or SWEAP, gathers observations using two complementary instruments: the Solar Probe Cup, or SPC, and the Solar Probe Analyzers, or SPAN. The instruments count the most abundant particles in the solar wind — electrons, protons and helium ions — and measure such properties as velocity, density, and temperature to improve our understanding of the solar wind and coronal plasma. SWEAP was built mainly at the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and at the Space Sciences Laboratory at the University of California, Berkeley. The institutions jointly operate the instrument. The principal investigator is Justin Kasper from the University of Michigan.


The Wide-Field Imager for Parker Solar Probe is the only imaging instrument aboard the spacecraft. WISPR looks at the large-scale structure of the corona and solar wind before the spacecraft flies through it. About the size of a shoebox, WISPR takes images from afar of structures like coronal mass ejections, or CMEs, jets and other ejecta from the Sun. These structures travel out from the Sun and eventually overtake the spacecraft, where the spacecraft’s other instruments take in-situ measurements. WISPR helps link what’s happening in the large-scale coronal structure to the detailed physical measurements being captured directly in the near-Sun environment. WISPR was designed and developed by the Solar and Heliophysics Physics Branch at the Naval Research Laboratory in Washington, DC (principal investigator Russell Howard), which will also develop the observing program.


Surveyor of the invisible forces, the FIELDS instrument suite captures the scale and shape of electric and magnetic fields in the Sun’s atmosphere. FIELDS measures waves and turbulence in the inner heliosphere with high time resolution to understand the fields associated with waves, shocks and magnetic reconnection, a process by which magnetic field lines explosively realign FIELDS was designed, built, and is operated by a team lead by the Space Sciences Laboratory at the University of California, Berkeley (principal investigator Stuart D. Bale)


The Integrated Science Investigation of the Sun—IS☉IS, pronounced ee-sis and including the symbol for the Sun in its acronym—on board Parker Solar Probe uses two complementary instruments in one combined scientific investigation to measure particles across a wide range of energies. By measuring electrons, protons and ions, IS☉IS will understand the particles’ life cycles—where they came from, how they became accelerated and how they move out from the Sun through interplanetary space The two energetic particle instruments on IS☉IS are called EPI-Lo and EPI-Hi (EPI stands for Energetic Particle Instrument).

IS☉IS is led by Princeton University in Princeton, New Jersey (principal investigator David McComas), and was built largely at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland, and Caltech, in Pasadena, California, with significant contributions from Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio, Texas, and NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland The IS☉IS Science Operations Center is operated at the University of New Hampshire in Durham.


The Thermal Protection System, or TPS, is an essential technology that enables Parker Solar Probe to get so close to the Sun. The TPS is a composite structure made of top and bottom carbon fiber facesheets with 4.5 inches of carbon-carbon foam between them. Together, they form the 8-foot diameter heat shield on the top of the spacecraft. The outer Sun facing facesheet is sprayed with a special bright white plasma optical coating. The TPS is light - only 160 pounds – yet very effective at protecting the spacecraft and scientific instruments from the Sun. During closes approach the Sun-facing side of the TPS will reach temperatures of about 2,500°F, while the spacecraft and majority of the instruments will only experience temperatures around 85°F.


Please give credit for this item to:
NASA/Johns Hopkins APL

Release date

This page was originally published on Wednesday, August 8, 2018.
This page was last updated on Wednesday, May 3, 2023 at 1:46 PM EDT.


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