Named after Jupiter’s mythological wife, NASA’s Juno spacecraft successfully entered orbit of the gas giant on July 4th, 2016. Telemetry of the completed orbital insertion engine burn was received at all four NASA facilities monitoring Juno’s progress. Launched from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on August 5, 2011, Juno has traveled 1.7 billion miles to reunite with its planetary “husband,” but the spacecraft’s real work has only just begun.
Achieving The Near Impossible
Achieving orbit in of itself is the penultimate feat for this first-ever mission to Jupiter. First, Juno independently increased it’s rotation rate from two to five rotations per minute. The spacecraft then had to slow down by 1,212 miles per hour, so as to be captured in Jupiter’s natural gravity and establish orbit. Then solar-powered Juno had to rotate so its 18,698 individual solar cells faced toward the sun and continue to power the craft.
Getting Down To Business
Now that Juno has entered orbit, it will begin the real mission: collecting data. For approximately 20 months, Juno will relay information about Jupiter as it orbits, breezing 3,100 miles above the topmost layer of Jupiter’s clouds. It will complete 400 full rotations of Jupiter before the mission is complete.
Juno is equipped with eleven instruments specifically aimed at amassing information on Jupiter’s origins. Collecting data to establish the amount of water in the atmosphere, and the possible existence of a solid planetary core. Juno is also fitted with a color camera, called JunoCam, which will be taking and posting images of the gas giant throughout it’s mission.
During the first few months of orbit, NASA will test Juno’s instruments, completing final calibrations and collecting some preliminary data. Full data collection will begin this October. TGNR will be standing-by.