Juno Arrives at Jupiter, NASA Extends A Host of Other Missions As Well

Credit: NASA

Credit: NASA

It is in many ways high summer for NASA’s fleet of robotic spacecraft deployed throughout the solar system. On Monday evening, as the fireworks were lighting up the night sky across much of the United States, the space agency’s latest probe, Juno, arrived in orbit around Jupiter.

Coming nearly five years after it launched from Cape Canaveral aboard an Atlas V rocket, Juno fired its 145 lb. thrust main engine for 35 minutes beginning at 11:18 EDT in order to slow its velocity to allow a long, looping capture orbit around the solar system’s largest planet. Shortly thereafter, it rotated once again to align its solar panels with the sun, powering back up for series of fitness checks which will last until October when the main science mission officially begins.

As the first solar powered spacecraft to be sent as far out as Jupiter, a decision dictated in part by NASA’s almost completely depleted stock of PU-238 plutonium pellets, the performance of the panels will be a major factor in the mission’s long term success. The other will be the incredibly harsh radiation environment created by Jupiter’s massive magnetic field, which captures and effective “bottles” high energy particles which are deadly to both humans and electronics.

NASA’s solution to this challenge was to utilize a RAD 750 flight processor which can handle exposure levels a million times that which is fatal to humans, and then to enclose all of Juno’s key flight control electronics in a 1 centimeter thick titanium “vault” intended to provide maximum protection. Although the science portion of the mission will not begin until the fall, NASA will invariably begin releasing some findings sooner than that as its 9 instruments are gradually brought on line.

Juno’s arrival at Jupiter is not the only reason planetary scientists have for celebration as July begins. Elsewhere across the solar system, NASA has authorized mission extensions for nearly every other ongoing effort, including the Dawn spacecraft at dwarf planet Ceres in the main asteroid belt and the New Horizons probe which celebrated France’s Bastille day last year with a ground breaking flight past Pluto. Also continued were the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter and six missions at Mars, including both the Curiosity and Opportunity rovers.


Posted in: NASA, Outer Planets

About the Author:

Post a Comment