NASA’s mission to Jupiter is set to commence on Friday, August 5th, when the Juno aircraft is set to launch. The mission will last five years total; the spacecraft will arrive at Jupiter in July 2016, after which it will spend a year studying the planet.
Once the spacecraft arrives at Jupiter, it will orbit the planet 33 times, lasting for approximately one earth year. The Juno spacecraft is the first mission to Jupiter that will use solar panels instead of radioisotope thermoelectric generators, which have been used on previous missions to Jupiter. The spacecraft is outfitted with three solar arrays arranged around the aircraft; two arrays have four panels each, while the third array has three panels. In total, the area of the solar arrays equals 650 square feet. The power produced by the solar arrays will produce 486 watts when the spacecraft arrives at Jupiter. The amount of power produced will eventually decline to 420 watts due to degradation on the cells from radiation.
NASA’s mission to Jupiter will use multiple scientific instruments to study the solar system’s largest planet. The objectives of the mission include determining the ratio of oxygen to hydrogen, which will measure the amount of water on the planet, obtaining more information to form a better estimate of the planet’s core mass, and mapping Jupiter’s gravity to determine the distribution of mass. The mission will also map the planet’s magnetic field, including assessing the structure and origin of the field, explore Jupiter’s polar magnetosphere and its auroras, and map the variation in the composition of Jupiter’s atmosphere, structure, and temperature. In addition, the spacecraft will also study Jupiter’s winds, which can reach speeds of up to 370 miles per hour.
The orbit of the spacecraft will come within 2,672 miles of the poles, but will also extend beyond Callisto’s orbit (one of Jupiter’s moons). Having such a varied orbit will help Juno avoid Jupiter’s radiation belts, which can harm both the spacecraft and its solar panels.
There are eight scientific instruments aboard the Juno aircraft that will aid in the mission’s objectives of discovering more about the red planet. The instruments are:
-Microwave Radiometer, which will probe the deep atmosphere of Jupiter by measuring the planet’s thermal emissions
-Fluxgate Magnometer, which will map the magnetic field, determine the structure of the polar magnetosphere, and determine the dynamics of the planet’s interior
-Jovian Infrared Auoral Mapper, which will probe the upper atmosphere of Jupiter using an imager and a spectrometer
-Jovian Auroral Distribution Experiment, which will measure the properties of particles in the polar magnetosphere of the planet
-Advanced Stellar Compass, which will aid the spacecraft in mapping by providing accurate pointing information
-Radio and Plasma Wave Sensor, which will measure radio and plasma spectra in the auroral region of Jupiter
-Jovian Energetic Particle Detector Instrument, which will measure the energy of elements in the polar magnetosphere
-Ultraviolet Imaging Spectrograph, which will record the properties of ultraviolet photons and provide images of the UV auroral emissions of the polar magnetosphere
The Juno aircraft is also outfitted with a JunoCam, an light camera/telescope. The JunoCam will only operate for seven orbits around the planet due to the harmful effects of Jupiter’s magnetic field and radiation.
The Principal Investigator of the mission to Jupiter is Scott Bolton, who works at the Southwest Research Institute in Texas. The mission is being managed by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California. The development and construction of the Juno spacecraft was overseen by the Lockheed Martin Corporation.
The Juno mission is set to end in October 2017, when the spacecraft is set to de-orbit before crashing into Jupiter. The mission has been estimated to cost around $1.1 billion.
Photo Credit: jpl.nasa.gov/images/juno/20101027/juno200904-226.jpg