There’s just one year left for NASA’s Juno mission to Jupiter – now the countdown truly begins.
Juno is scheduled to arrive at Jupiter on July 4 next year. Although many other spacecraft have made Jupiter their holiday destination, Juno is the first mission solely dedicated to the interior of this planet.
It’s no mean feat – after settling into a steady orbit around Jupiter, Juno will have to battle through the giant planet’s intense radiation. Continually collecting data for approximately a year after landing, Juno will map the planet’s magnetic fields and gravity fields, monitor water vapor in Jupiter’s atmosphere and explore previously unknown regions beyond the planet’s poles.
“We're already more than 90 percent of the way to Jupiter, in terms of total distance traveled,” said Juno principal investigator Scott Bolton in an official statement. “With a year to go, we're looking carefully at our plans to make sure we're ready to make the most of our time once we arrive.”
Plans have been continually revised for Juno’s mission. As an example, the mission originally called for a flight orbit of 11 days around Jupiter, but now Juno will make that revolution in 14 days. Although this will prolong Juno’s stay from 15 months to 20 with “slightly shorter engine burn than originally planned,” this change will allow for a more in-depth mapping of the giant planet.
"It's been a busy cruise, but the journey has provided our team with valuable experience flying the spacecraft and enhanced our confidence in Juno's design," said Juno project manager Rick Nybakken. "Now it's time to gear up for Jupiter."
As the second release of NASA’s New Frontiers program, Juno is the sister of New Horizons, which will soon be exploring Pluto this month.