NASA has announced an extension to two of its incredible missions that were due to come to an imminent end. Juno, currently studying Jupiter, and InSight, busy on the surface of Mars, will each receive a multi-year extension. An independent review panel has stated that both missions have "produced exceptional science" and so recommended their continuation to the space agency.
Juno is studying Jupiter as no other spacecraft has before. Its suits of instruments are probing the planet's gravity, its magnetic field, its weather, and its atmosphere, while releasing incredibly detailed images of the planet. The goal is to understand exactly what the planet is made of deep down and how it formed. The mission arrived at Jupiter in July 2016 and was scheduled to be deorbited with a planned swan dive into the planet’s atmosphere this coming July.
Thankfully, this won’t be the case. The mission is extended through 2025 or when it dies, whichever comes first. With an extended lease of life, the team is planning more observations, with more investigation of the thin rings system as well as close flybys of moons Ganymed, Europa, and Io.
InSight is NASA's multi-purpose lander currently on Mars. It's equipped with a highly sensitive seismometer to study marsquakes and learn about the interior of the planet as well as a weather station and other instruments that are providing, funnily enough, insights into the properties of Mars. The mission will be extended until December 2022.
This is also very good news for the unfortunate least successful of all InSight’s instruments, the Heat Flow and Physical Properties Package (HP3), also known as the Mole. This is a self-hammering probe that was supposed to dig itself deep into the Martian ground to measure the internal temperature of the Red Planet among other things. Unfortunately, the ground near InSight was unlike what had been expected and it took a lot of adjustments and a clever solution to get the probe to start digging and burrow underground. It is currently still just below the surface and its continuous digging is low-priority so the extra time will hopefully be good for this part of the mission.
"The Senior Review has validated that these two planetary science missions are likely to continue to bring new discoveries, and produce new questions about our Solar System," Lori Glaze, director of the planetary science division at NASA Headquarters in Washington, said in a statement. "I thank the members of the Senior Review panel for their comprehensive analysis and thank the mission teams as well, who will now continue to provide exciting opportunities to refine our understanding of the dynamic science of Jupiter and Mars."