Home » SCIENCE » NASA Juno Team Tweaks Jupiter-Bound Spacecraft’s Flight Path
This artist's rendering shows NASA's Juno spacecraft making one of its close passes over Jupiter. Image credit:NASA/JPL-Caltech

NASA Juno Team Tweaks Jupiter-Bound Spacecraft’s Flight Path

NASA’s Juno mission for Jupiter probe in 2011 will change its orbit slightly so it would take 14 days for the spacecraft for one revolution around the planet instead of 11 days earlier.

The Juno mission is expected to reach the Jupiter surface one year from now on July 16, 2016 and braving the radiation hazard, it would slowly descend to reach the closest point within few thousand miles, or kilometers or even cloud tops for its orbit, said NASA.

This animation of four images shows Jupiter in infrared light as seen by NASA's InfraRed Telescope Facility, or IRTF, on May 16, 2015. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

This animation of four images shows Jupiter in infrared light as seen by NASA’s InfraRed Telescope Facility, or IRTF, on May 16, 2015. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

NASA’s Juno mission seeks to reveal the story of Jupiter’s formation and details of its interior structure. Juno is the first mission dedicated to the study of a giant planet’s interior and it will map the planet’s magnetic and gravity fields, besides the abundance of water vapor in the planet’s atmosphere that gives credence to the theory that the planet’s formation is likely the correct one.

Since no past mission to Jupiter could reach nearer as Juno,the team on Earth is trying to fine-tune its flight plan. “We’re already more than 90 percent of the way to Jupiter, in terms of total distance traveled,” said Scott Bolton, Juno principal investigator at Southwest Research Institute, San Antonio.

Based on the team’s recommendations, NASA recently approved changes to the mission’s flight plan so it would take 14 days now for one revolution, instead of 11 days as planned earlier. It will be accomplished by having Juno execute a slightly shorter engine burn than originally planned, explained scientists.

The revised cadence allows Juno to map Jupiter’s magnetic and gravity fields in more detail. The original plan would have required 15 orbits to map these forces, while the revised plan lets Juno get very basic mapping coverage in just eight orbits. A new level of detail will be added with each successive doubling of the number, at 16 and 32 orbits, said NASA’s Juno team.

The revised plan lengthens Juno’s mission at Jupiter to 20 months instead of the original 15, and the spacecraft will now complete 32 orbits instead of 30.

Juno is the second mission sent as part of NASA’s New Frontiers program of medium-class spacecraft missions to explore our solar system and the New Horizons mission, which will soon encounter Pluto, is the first New Frontiers mission. The OSIRIS-REx is next in the lineup, slated to launch in 2016.

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