NASA, John Hopkins University Advanced PHysics Lab are planning an ambitious new solar probe that will travel closer to the Sun than any other manmade device ever. The probe will be used to study the charged particles of the solar wind directly from the Sun's outer atmosphere, the corona, where the wind is generated. The probe, costing an estimated $750 million, will likley launch in 2015. The expedition to the sun has been planned for almost 30 years, the time it has taken to overcome the serious technical obstacles in approaching so close to our parent star.
"At closest approach Solar Probe would zip past the sun at 125 miles per second, protected by a carbon-composite heat shield that must withstand up to 2,600 degrees Fahrenheit and survive blasts of radiation and energized dust at levels not experienced by any previous spacecraft."
There are an impressive list of goals for the craft, including:
"Solar Probe will employ a combination of in-place and remote measurements to achieve the mission’s primary scientific goals: determine the structure and dynamics of the magnetic fields at the sources of solar wind; trace the flow of energy that heats the corona and accelerates the solar wind; determine what mechanisms accelerate and transport energetic particles; and explore dusty plasma near the sun and its influence on solar wind and energetic particle formation.
The probe will weigh in at around 1000 pounds, have a nine foot carbon heat shield, and have two external solar arrays to provide power. Seven flybys of the planet Venus will allow the probe to shrink its orbit to just over 4 million miles from the Sun, over eight times closer than any previous spacecraft has come.