After a five-year trip through space, Juno finally made it to Jupiter’s orbit at the start of the week. Now, the real work begins.
Timed to within a quite extraordinary one second, Juno’s arrival at Jupiter was an outstanding success by NASA.
It puts Jupiter front and centre for 2016’s primary space exploration achievements, following in the fine footsteps of New Horizons’ trip to Pluto in 2015 and Rosetta’s scouting out of Comet 67P in 2014.
But, as with the latter, getting there is only half the battle. With Juno’s time in orbit now assured, NASA is beginning to reboot each scientific tool onboard to maximise the scientific intake from such a blue riband mission.
Currently operating on a 53.4-day orbit around Jupiter, one last engine burn will reduce that to a mere 14-day orbit, which is when the fun really begins.
“We had to turn all our beautiful instruments off to help ensure a successful Jupiter orbit insertion on 4 July,” said Scott Bolton, Juno principal investigator from the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio. “But next time around we will have our eyes and ears open.”
The next time around will be August 27, with findings released at the start of September.
The total voyage made by Juno was around 1.7bn miles, with a quirky collection of oddities aboard the spacecraft including three Lego figures depicting the 17th-century Italian astronomer Galileo Galilei, the Roman god Jupiter, and the deity’s wife Juno.
Those figurines made it to their target within one second of the original projection.
“We hit our burn targets within one second,” said Rick Nybakken, Juno project manager. “On a target that was just tens of kilometres large. Isn’t that incredible?”
Given the harsh Jovian atmosphere – which we’re going to learn oh-so-much-more about – Juno has radiation-hardened wiring, sensor shielding and a computer housed in a 400lb titanium vault as means of protection.
Jupiter and Juno image via Shutterstock