The National Aeronautics and Space Administration will launch a spacecraft on August 11 designed to reach closer to the sun than any other before it, to help scientists learn more about the atmosphere of the star. The Parker Solar Probe, built at a cost of $1.5 billion, will take off from Florida’s Cape Canaveral Air Force Base and fly into the sun’s outer orbit, known as the corona.

“The Parker Solar Probe will travel through the sun’s atmosphere, closer to the surface than any spacecraft before it, facing brutal heat and radiation conditions,” NASA said on its website. “The spacecraft will use Venus’ gravity during seven flybys over nearly seven years to gradually bring its orbit closer to the sun.” In order to withstand the tremendous heat and solar radiation, the Parker Solar Probe will be protected by a 4.5-inch-thick carbon composite shield.

The space agency said the probe will travel to within 3.8 million miles (6.11 million kms) of the sun’s surface, within the orbit of Mercury, “closer than any spacecraft has come before”. The earth’s average distance from the sun is 93 million miles.

The probe will use a combination of in situ measurements and imaging to better human understanding of the corona, and of the origin and evolution of the solar wind. “It will also make critical contributions to our ability to forecast changes in earth’s space environment that affect life and technology on earth,” NASA said.