Oct 9, 2019

NASA's Juno spacecraft avoids Jupiter's shadow to stay alive

Miriam Kramer, author of Space

Jupiter as seen by Juno. Photo: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS/Kevin M. Gill

NASA's Juno spacecraft has a new lease on life thanks to a 10.5-hour maneuver to keep the Jupiter-studying probe out of the huge planet's shadow.

Why it matters: Without the maneuver, Juno's mission would have likely ended when the spacecraft entered Jupiter's shadow in November, plunging the bus-sized probe into darkness for about 12 hours, draining its solar-charged batteries.

Details: Mission managers used Juno's reaction-control thrusters to shift the spacecraft's orbital velocity by 126 mph, according to NASA.

  • That slight change will ensure that the solar-powered spacecraft will miss the huge planet's shadow during Juno's next close approach, called a "perijove."
  • "The change to the orbits is minor, we are essentially still in the same polar orbit with very close perijoves of Jupiter, so our science plan is not affected," Juno principal investigator Scott Bolton told Axios via email.

What's next: Juno will continue to gather data about Jupiter's atmosphere, weather — including giant polar cyclones — and interior during its 53-day orbits.

  • Juno’s primary mission is expected to come to an end in 2021, though Bolton and his team are currently working on a plan that would continue Juno’s life at Jupiter beyond that if NASA chooses to fund it.

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