Spacecraft Overview

The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland, is designing and will build the Solar Probe Plus spacecraft for NASA, on a schedule to launch no later than 2018. The compact, solar-powered probe will weigh about 1,350 pounds; preliminary designs include an 8-foot-diameter, 4.5-inch-thick, carbon-carbon, carbon foam solar shield atop the spacecraft body. The solar arrays will retract and extend as the spacecraft swings toward or away from the Sun during several loops around the inner solar system, making sure the panels stay at proper temperatures and power levels. At its closest passes the spacecraft must survive solar intensity more than 500 times what spacecraft experience while orbiting Earth.

Spacecraft Configuration

Solar Probe Plus shown with solar array panels in stowed position.

Spacecraft Characteristics

Solar Probe Plus will be fortified with heat-resistant technologies developed for APL's MESSENGER spacecraft, which has already flown past Mercury three times in preparation for a yearlong orbit study of the planet that started in 2011. Solar Probe Plus' solar shield concept was partially influenced by designs of MESSENGER's sunshade.