Jupiter-bound spacecraft makes key maneuver

Aug 30, 2012
This undated image released by NASA shows an artist rendering of the Juno spacecraft circling Jupiter. The spacecraft planned to fire its engine on Aug. 30, 2012, the first of two engine burns to set it up for an Earth gravity assist next year. It's due to arrive at Jupiter in 2016. (AP Photo/NASA)

A Jupiter-bound spacecraft successfully fired its engine Thursday in the first of two crucial maneuvers intended to bring it toward Earth for a momentum-gathering fly-by.

NASA officials said the Juno spacecraft, which is about 300 million miles (482 million kilometers) from earth, fired its main engine for just short of 30 minutes.

Along with another engine firing set for next week, the maneuver is intended to direct Juno toward Earth's orbit for a 2013 fly-by, where it will use the planet's gravity to accelerate toward the outer solar system.

Launched last year, Juno is zooming toward an encounter with the giant gas planet in 2016.

More than half a dozen spacecraft have visited the solar system's largest planet since the 1970s, but Juno promises to venture closer for a deeper study into Jupiter's evolution.

By peering through Jupiter's dense clouds and mapping its magnetic and gravity fields, scientists hope to better understand how the solar system formed.

The $1.1 billion mission is managed by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

Soon after launch, it glanced back and snapped a rare picture of Earth and the moon.

Since the rocket that carried Juno was not powerful enough to boost it directly to its destination, it has to cruise out to space and swing back next year to use the Earth as a slingshot to push it toward Jupiter.

The back-to-back burns were needed to put Juno on course to fly by Earth at an altitude of some 300 million miles (482 million kilometers).

To prepare for Thursday's engine burn, the spacecraft's fuel tanks were pressurized and its batteries were fully charged.

Once in orbit around Jupiter, Juno will circle the poles 33 times and use instruments to track the abundance of water and oxygen in the atmosphere, and determine whether the planet's core is solid or gaseous.

Juno is the first solar-powered spacecraft to venture so far from the sun. It is equipped with three solar panels, each the size of a tractor-trailer.

Juno is designed to study Jupiter for a year and then deliberately crash into the planet so that it won't pose any threat of biological contamination to moons such as Europa, which scientists believe may have a liquid ocean beneath its surface.

Explore further: Cassini sees sunny seas on Titan

4.4 /5 (5 votes)
add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

NASA's Juno spacecraft refines its path to Jupiter

Feb 03, 2012

(PhysOrg.com) -- NASA's solar-powered Juno spacecraft successfully refined its flight path Wednesday with the mission's first trajectory correction maneuver. The maneuver took place on Feb. 1. It is the first ...

Jupiter-bound space probe captures Earth and Moon

Aug 31, 2011

(PhysOrg.com) -- On its way to the biggest planet in the solar system -- Jupiter, NASA's Juno spacecraft took time to capture its home planet and its natural satellite -- the moon.

NASA poised to launch spacecraft to Jupiter

Aug 05, 2011

NASA is poised to launch on Friday a one billion dollar solar-powered spacecraft called Juno on a five-year journey to Jupiter in search of what makes up the solar system's biggest planet.

NASA awards Juno Jupiter mission contract

Oct 04, 2007

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration has picked Lockheed Martin Commercial Launch Services of Littleton, Colo., for the Juno mission to Jupiter.

Recommended for you

Cassini sees sunny seas on Titan

21 hours ago

(Phys.org) —As it soared past Saturn's large moon Titan recently, NASA's Cassini spacecraft caught a glimpse of bright sunlight reflecting off hydrocarbon seas.

Is space tourism safe or do civilians risk health effects?

Oct 30, 2014

Several companies are developing spacecraft designed to take ordinary citizens, not astronauts, on short trips into space. "Space tourism" and short periods of weightlessness appear to be safe for most individuals ...

An unmanned rocket exploded. So what?

Oct 30, 2014

Sputnik was launched more than 50 years ago. Since then we have seen missions launched to Mercury, Mars and to all the planets within the solar system. We have sent a dozen men to the moon and many more to ...

NASA image: Sunrise from the International Space Station

Oct 30, 2014

NASA astronaut Reid Wiseman posted this image of a sunrise, captured from the International Space Station, to social media on Oct. 29, 2014. Wiseman wrote, "Not every day is easy. Yesterday was a tough one. ...

Copernicus operations secured until 2021

Oct 30, 2014

In a landmark agreement for Europe's Copernicus programme, the European Commission and ESA have signed an Agreement of over €3 billion to manage and implement the Copernicus 'space component' between 2014 ...

User comments : 2

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

Ober
not rated yet Aug 30, 2012
300 miles is equal to 482 million kilometers???? WOW!!!
antialias_physorg
5 / 5 (2) Aug 31, 2012
Well, they added the million before the 300 but still got it wrong.

The altitude of the flyby will be 300 miles (482 km)
- not 300 million miles. That would be more than halfway the distance to Jupiter.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.