Oct 9, 2019

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

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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Photo shows NASA's InSight lander on Mars' surface

Photo: NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona

Even the most distant robotic explorers on Mars are never totally alone. NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter caught sight of the space agency's InSight lander on the Martian surface in September.

Why it matters: The remarkably clear photo taken by the MRO shows off the lander's circular solar panels on the sides of the spacecraft.

Go deeperArrowNov 5, 2019

NASA has a new head of human spaceflight

Photo: NASA

Former Department of Defense official Douglas Loverro has been named NASA's new head of human spaceflight after a months-long search.

Why it matters: Loverro will help lead NASA's push to the Moon as part of its Artemis program to land astronauts back on the lunar surface by 2024, as directed by the Trump administration.

Read moreArrowOct 16, 2019

NASA’s ICON is on a mission to investigate the ionosphere

Artist's illustration of ICON. Image: NASA Goddard's Conceptual Image Lab/B. Monroe

A NASA satellite designed to investigate a critical layer of Earth's atmosphere launched to space last Thursday.

Why it matters: Scientists think the ionosphere can interfere with communications, expose astronauts to high radiation and even drag satellites down through the atmosphere earlier than expected when space weather hits.

Go deeperArrowOct 15, 2019