Researchers think a new coating could allow spacecraft to get close as one solar radii (430,000 miles) from the Sun's surface. This would be eight times improvement over the Parker Solar Probe.
The goal of a Phase 1 NIAC study is to determine how near a spacecraft might come the Sun using a novel, very high-reflectivity coating. Using this material to cover a thin solar shield and including a secondary silvered reflective cone between the shield and the spacecraft (to reflect away infrared radiation from the shield).
The Parker Solar Probe utilizes a solar shield comprising a lightly-coated carbon composite layer on top of four inches of carbon foam. However, the temperature limits of the shield restrict the closest approach distance.
urrently have co-funding to demonstrate that our new coating can allow a coated tank to reach cryogenic temperatures at earth distance from the Sun. This funds allow for continued coating development for our proposed Phase 2 NIAC to consider only coating issues relevant to being near the Sun. Specifically the optical and mechanical issues related to high temperature long-wave reflectors will be an area of study in our Phase 2 effort.