Earlier this week, NASA released news about its Juno spacecraft. Initially, the Jupiter probe was set to reduce its orbiting period from 53 to 14 days. But it will not do so anymore. The reason? A technical glitch.
The Juno spacecraft is a NASA space probe. Its mission is to orbit and gather data on Pluto. Built by Lockheed Martin, the probe is operated by the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Juno is part of the aerospace agency’s New Frontiers program.
After being launched back in 2011, the Juno spacecraft reached its orbit around Jupiter in July 2016. Ever since then, it has been beaming back data about the planet.
The space probe has a 53 Earth days orbiting period. And just recently, NASA scientists announced their intention of trying to reduce it. They were aiming at a 14 Earth days orbit.
Nonetheless, February 17th came with news on the matter. At the time, the mission scientists announced that the Juno spacecraft will be keeping its current orbiting period.
Their initial orbit reduction plan should have gone as follows. The researchers were planning on using Juno’s engines in order to achieve the reduction. This risky maneuver would have relied on Juno’s propulsion system.
And this latter is also the reason behind the change in plans. Or the return to the initial program. The Juno spacecraft would have had to release an engine burn. Nonetheless, this will not be possible. The risks would exponentially increase as an analysis detected a glitch.
Two of the Juno rover helium valves revealed some issues. This was detected back in October 2016. A thorough review led to a series of scenarios. Each tried to place Juno on a shorter orbit period. But the results were not quite favorable. A main engine burn could have potentially placed the probe on a “less than desirable orbit”.
As such, the Juno spacecraft will continue its current program. Which should nonetheless benefit research. A longer orbit duration will give the probe more time to explore.
During this time, it may better explore even the farther reaches of space. These are believed to be affected by Jupiter’s magnetic field. This longer initial orbit will also help the Juno spacecraft achieve its science goals.
The probe will have the same flyby orbit. Which will maintain its closest approach point to the planet. During such periods, Juno is some 2,600 miles above Jupiter’s atmospheric cloud tops.
Thomas Zurbuchen also released a statement on the matter. He is the NASA Science Mission Directorate Associate Administrator. According to Zurbuchen, Juno is working just fine. Or more exactly, it is “healthy”. Reportedly, all its instruments are fully operational. And it is also beaming back some incredible images and data.
Until now, the Juno spacecraft carried out four flybys. During such moments, it sends its probes inside Jupiter’s thick cloud cover. It does so in order to analyze the planet’s auroras. And also because it is trying to discover Jupiter’s structure and formation process. It also gathers data on its magnetosphere and atmosphere.
The last Jupiter flyby was carried out earlier this month, on February 2nd. The next one will probably take place on March 27th.
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