Parker Solar Probe has started its second Venus flyby on Dec 26 aiming to fly within 1870 miles of Venus. The second mission of opportunity will use Venus to slow itself down and adjust the trajectory for an optimal path towards the Sun. The NASA robotic spacecraft’s mission is to observe the outer corona of the Sun.
“The seven Venus flybys are connected in a unique sequence, and each of the flybys is chosen not only to make the necessary orbit reductions, but also to hit the subsequent flybys,” says Yanping Guo, mission and navigation design manager for Parker Solar Probe.
By January 29, 2020, the spacecraft is expected to reach its next close approach or perihelion. Since the Parker Solar Probe has been launched, scientists are hoping that it will solve some of the deepest mysteries about the star by getting even closer to the sun, spending seven years.
For Venus scientists, the mission is a great opportunity as they haven’t launched any dedicated NASA spacecraft since the mid-1990s. This mission will surely help in exploring more about Venus as to complete the solar mission the spacecraft will have seven flybys of Venus.
A planetary physicist at the University of California, Shannon Curry said that "The Venus flybys are like, if you have like a 48-hour layover in Paris, not leaving the airport."
"It would be crazy not to turn on [the instruments]," he added.
However, it is notable that the instruments of Parker Solar Probe are specially designed to study a star, not a planet. They mainly focus on plasma, the hot mess of charged particles that forms the sun. The European Space Agency's Venus Express and NASA's Pioneer Venus Orbiter are the two dedicated Venus mission that carried plasma detectors to the world. According to Curry, "The stuff that they were able to put on [Parker] Solar Probe takes measurements faster, better, stronger, like the whole deal."
There are numerous doubts about Venus that plasma data could resolve. However, Curry's team is focusing on bow shock, where the planet's neighborhood meets the solar wind of charged particles that regularly stream off the sun.
"We're not positive it'll cross the shock or not, but that's actually important because it'll tell us physically where the shock is at this point in the solar cycle," Curry said.
"It tells us a lot about what the sun's doing, and the shock is a nice gauge of that."
Venus scientists are looking for a more detailed measurement of the atmosphere loss of the planet. If the Parker Solar Probe crosses inside the shock, experts can have a better understanding of how fast Venus is losing its atmosphere. Curry is hopeful that the probe may reveal many unknown facts about the surface of Venus.