Friday, June 10, 2016

NASA's Juno Spacecraft to Reach Jupiter on 4th of July

NASA's Juno Spacecraft In Polar Orbit Around Jupiter

UPDATE:  Juno Spacecraft Reaches Jupiter

CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida - After launching from Cape Canaveral, Florida nearly five years ago, NASA's Juno mission is now only 26 days and 11.1 million miles away from Jupiter.  

While Americans are busy celebrating the Fourth of July with fireworks, Juno will fire its main engine for 35 minutes, placing it into a polar orbit around the gas giant. According to NASA, this will be a daring planetary encounter because Jupiter lies in the harshest radiation environment known. But scientists have specially designed Juno to safely navigate this inhospitable territory.

"We're currently closing the distance between us and Jupiter at about four miles per second," said Scott Bolton, principal investigator for Juno from the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio, Texas. "But Jupiter's gravity is tugging at us harder every day and by the time we arrive we'll be accelerated to 10 times that speed -- more than 40 miles per second (nearly 70 kilometers per second) -- by the time our rocket engine puts on the brakes to get us into orbit."

The Juno mission team is using these last weeks to evaluate and re-evaluate every portion of the Jupiter orbit insertion (JOI) process, finding very low probability events and running them to ground -- determining which, if any, need to be addressed. Two scenarios have been identified for further work. The first is a variation in how Juno would come out of safe mode—a protective mode if the spacecraft were to encounter an anomaly or unexpected condition. A second item involves a minor software update. 

"We are in the last test and review phases of the JOI sequence as part of our final preparations for Jupiter orbit insertion," said Rick Nybakken, project manager of Juno for NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. "Throughout the project, including operations, our review process has looked for the likely, the unlikely and then the very unlikely. Now we are looking at extremely unlikely events that orbit insertion could throw at us."

ABOVE IMAGE: An artist's rendering shows NASA's Juno spacecraft making one of its close passes over Jupiter. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech