Will the probe be intentionally crashed anywhere? Or is keeping space decontaminated not an issue here since temperature and radiation will sterilize anything in that kind of orbit?

up vote 7 down vote accepted

Surface contamination is not an issue for Mercury or Venus. It is only considered a Category I (Mercury) or II (Venus) risk, which essentially means don't worry about it too much. Also, its orbit will take it very close to the Sun repeatedly. Eventually it will lose control due to lower fuel and the entire spacecraft will be heated to a more then high enough value to sterilize anything.

Most likely they will simply continue to do as many close passes as it can. If they can get a closer approach then they will try it. If they can't, it will basically melt except for the heat shield and a few other components, and might end up in Venus or the Sun.

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    Hopefully it'll hit the sun, it would be our first addition to the suns mass in human history :). Negligible, but still cool. – Magic Octopus Urn Oct 22 at 13:56
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    That isn't really that likely. I suppose it could happen eventually, but... A very close approach would be required. – PearsonArtPhoto Oct 22 at 14:09
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    "If they can get a closer approach then they will try it." This is purely speculation, right? I mean I can write "Even if they can get a closer approach they wouldn't risk it, but instead keep it alive as long as possible to continue to collect data" and it would be equally valid, wouldn't it? Is there a source somewhere? – uhoh Oct 22 at 14:48
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    Source: Almost every single NASA mission always takes a conservative approach first, with a plan to do a more risky high science value after the primary mission is done. I could list a dozen or more missions that this has been done. The logical step for PSP is to try and do a closer approach, if they can figure out how to make it happen. I know that they wanted to get PSP closer, but something was holding it back. – PearsonArtPhoto Oct 22 at 15:33
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    @PearsonArtPhoto "Deorbiting" is roughly as hard as escaping the sun's gravitational pull; orbits (like Earth's) are roughly in the midpoint between "fall into sun" and "escape sun's gravity pull". So it could be as simple as lacking fuel to get closer to the sun... – Yakk Oct 22 at 17:21

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