NASA's Solar Geometer, Parker, became the record-holder at the start of his mission when he took the title of the fastest spacecraft in history from a wildly successful investigation into the New Horizons. A re-emerging history a few weeks later, flying through the corona of the sun and returning the data back. Now, NASA has announced that Parker has completed a full orbit of the sun, and that's diving back for another pass.
Parker entered full operational status on January 1, with all systems operating normally. It began transmitting the mountains of data over the Deep Space network – NASA says it has collected more than 17 gigabytes so far. Parker has collected so much data that it will take a few more months to get all that sent back. Data from the first orbit should be made only in time for Parker to dive again in the corona of the sun.
In preparation for the upcoming solar passage, NASA is a busy space for cleaning internal solid states of the probe. As the data returns to Earth, NASA deletes the corresponding files of Parker. The spacecraft also receives new navigational information, which NASA carries for a month at the same time.
NASA says it expects Parker to reach perihelion (the closest approach to the sun) on April 4. This will be the second of 24 planned orbits that promise to advance our understanding of the sun. Parker's mission has been under way for years. NASA has long wanted to study the corona of the sun, but the probe protection technology was above our capabilities until recently. You probably expect that the surface of the sun will be warmer than the space around it, but that's not the case. The crown of ionized plasma around the sun is about one million Kelvin, 300 times warmer than the surface.
Parker has a 4.5-inch thermal shield of carbon composite foam, bonded between two carbon fibers. NASA was not sure how good it would be when Parker was not in the corona, but now the agency thinks Parker will have no problem completing all 24 orbits without becoming a molten metal ball.
The perihelion for the April orbit will be just 15 million miles (24.1 million kilometers). It's a bit closer than the last one, but the craft will move a little with each orbit until it gets 3,800 miles from the surface in the next few years.