NASA's Jupiter-circling spacecraft stuck making long laps

February 23, 2017 by Marcia Dunn
This undated image shows shows an artist's rendering of NASA's Juno spacecraft making a close pass over Jupiter. On Thursday, Feb. 23, 2017, NASA said its the spacecraft is stuck making long laps around the gas giant because of sticky valves. (NASA via AP)

NASA's Jupiter-circling spacecraft is stuck making long laps around the gas giant because of sticky valves.

It currently takes Juno 53 days to fly around the solar system's biggest planet. That's almost four times longer than the intended 14-day .

After repeated delays, NASA decided late last week to scrap an engine firing that would have shortened the orbit. Officials said the maneuver is too risky because of the valve problem.

Only the second spacecraft to orbit Jupiter, Juno has been circling the planet since July.

NASA said the quality of science won't be affected and stressed that stunning pictures of Jupiter will keep coming this way. But it will take more time to gather the data, given Juno's longer loops. The will have to be extended at tens of millions of extra dollars if scientists are to collect everything under the original plan. It's already a billion-dollar mission.

On the plus side, according to scientists, Juno now will spend less time in Jupiter's abrasive radiation belts.

"The decision to forego the burn is the right thing to do—preserving a valuable asset so that Juno can continue its exciting journey of discovery," NASA's Thomas Zurbuchen, the science mission associate administrator, said in a statement. He added that the pictures from Juno "are nothing short of amazing."

This Dec. 11, 2016 image made available by NASA shows Jupiter's northern latitudes made by the spacecraft Juno as it performed a close flyby of the gas giant planet. On Thursday, Feb. 23, 2017, NASA said its the spacecraft is stuck making long laps around the gas giant because of sticky valves. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS/Gerald Eichstaedt/John Rogers via AP)

Juno is able to peer through Jupiter's clouds to see what's going on in the atmosphere. Scientists want to better understand how the planet—the fifth from our sun, with at least 67 moons— originated and evolved.

Every orbit, Juno swoops within 2,600 miles (4,200 kilometers) of Jupiter's cloud tops. The most recently completed orbit was three weeks ago; the next close flyby will come at the end of March.

Whenever Juno's mission does end, the spacecraft will end up diving into Jupiter's atmosphere and burning up, meteor-style. It was launched in 2011 from Cape Canaveral.

Explore further: NASA's Juno spacecraft to make its fourth flyby over Jupiter

More information: NASA: www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/juno/main/index.html

Related Stories

Juno to remain in current orbit at Jupiter

February 19, 2017

NASA's Juno mission to Jupiter, which has been in orbit around the gas giant since July 4, 2016, will remain in its current 53-day orbit for the remainder of the mission. This will allow Juno to accomplish its science goals, ...

NASA's Juno successfully completes Jupiter flyby

August 29, 2016

NASA's Juno mission successfully executed its first of 36 orbital flybys of Jupiter today. The time of closest approach with the gas-giant world was 6:44 a.m. PDT (9:44 a.m. EDT, 13:44 UTC) when Juno passed about 2,600 miles ...

NASA's Juno spacecraft burns for Jupiter

February 4, 2016

NASA's solar-powered Juno spacecraft successfully executed a maneuver to adjust its flight path today, Feb. 3. The maneuver refined the spacecraft's trajectory, helping set the stage for Juno's arrival at the solar system's ...

Public to choose Jupiter picture sites for NASA Juno

January 20, 2017

Where should NASA's Juno spacecraft aim its camera during its next close pass of Jupiter on Feb. 2? You can now play a part in the decision. For the first time, members of the public can vote to participate in selecting all ...

Recommended for you

Galactic center visualization delivers star power

March 21, 2019

Want to take a trip to the center of the Milky Way? Check out a new immersive, ultra-high-definition visualization. This 360-movie offers an unparalleled opportunity to look around the center of the galaxy, from the vantage ...

Ultra-sharp images make old stars look absolutely marvelous

March 21, 2019

Using high-resolution adaptive optics imaging from the Gemini Observatory, astronomers have uncovered one of the oldest star clusters in the Milky Way Galaxy. The remarkably sharp image looks back into the early history of ...

0 comments

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.