Sunday, June 10, 2018

NASA Grants 3 Year Extension to Jupiter Orbiting Juno Mission

This extraordinary view of Jupiter was captured by NASA’s Juno spacecraft on the outbound leg of its 12th close flyby of the gas giant planet was created from images on April1, 2018 by the Junocam camera.   This new perspective of Jupiter from the south makes the Great Red Spot appear as though it is in northern territory. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS/Gerald Eichstäd/Seán Doran
Ken Kremer  --  --   9 June 2018

CAPE CANAVERAL, FL –  NASA officials have granted a three year extension to the Juno mission currently orbiting Jupiter until 2021.

NASA’s approval of the extension of the probes primary mission phase funds science and engineering operations through July 2021.
The extra 41 months of science observations will enable Juno to achieve its primary mission goals. 
“During its continued mission, NASA’s Juno spacecraft will maintain its 53-day polar orbit around Jupiter,” NASA officials said.
Under its original plan, Juno was to gather observations during much shorter 14-day long orbits. However concerns with valves related to its main engine forced the team  to abandon plans to fire the main engine to lower and shorten the orbit.

Instead the team decided to leave Juno in a 53-day orbit where it could continue to make all its planned research observation – but just over a longer period of time. 
During its continued mission, NASA’s Juno spacecraft will maintain its 53-day polar orbit around Jupiter. At its closest, Juno passes within 3,000 miles (5,000 kilometers) of Jupiter’s cloud tops once during each 53-day orbit. At the high end of each orbit, Juno is about 5 million miles (8-million kilometers) from the planet – which is just beyond the orbit of the Jovian moon Themisto.  Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

To date Juno has completed 12 orbits since arriving at Jupiter in July 2016. 
“Juno is in 53-day orbits rather than 14-day orbits as initially planned because of a concern about valves on the spacecraft’s fuel system. This longer orbit means that it will take more time to collect the needed science data.”

The extension was granted after “an independent panel of experts confirmed in April that Juno is on track to achieve its science objectives and is already returning spectacular results.  The Juno spacecraft and all instruments are healthy and operating nominally,” NASA noted. 
The prime mission had been scheduled to end in February of 2018 with a suicide plunge into the Jovian atmosphere to prevent any possible contamination with Jupiter’s potentially habitable moons such as Europa and Ganymede.
“With these funds, not only can the Juno team continue to answer long-standing questions about Jupiter that first fueled this exciting mission, but they’ll also investigate new scientific puzzles motivated by their discoveries thus far,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington, in a statement.

“With every additional orbit, both scientists and citizen scientists will help unveil new surprises about this distant world."

Juno is equipped with a suite of nine state-of-the-art science instruments to gather totally unique observations of Jupiter’s interior and exterior environment and determine the gas giants genesis.   

The solar powered probe will collect unparalleled new data that will unveil the hidden inner secrets of Jupiter’s origin and evolution as it peers “beneath the obscuring cloud cover of Jupiter and study its auroras to learn more about the planet's origins, structure, atmosphere and magnetosphere.”

Artists concept of NASA’s Juno at Jupiter. Credit: NASA

“This is great news for planetary exploration as well as for the Juno team,” said Scott Bolton, principal investigator of Juno, from the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio, in a statement. 
"These updated plans for Juno will allow it to complete its primary science goals. As a bonus, the larger orbits allow us to further explore the far reaches of the Jovian magnetosphere -- the region of space dominated by Jupiter's magnetic field -- including the far magnetotail, the southern magnetosphere, and the magnetospheric boundary region called the magnetopause. We have also found Jupiter’s radiation environment in this orbit to be less extreme than expected, which has been beneficial to not only our spacecraft, but our instrumunts and the continued quality of science data collected.”

“There is no impact on the primary science goals by staying in the longer 53-day orbit,” Bolton told me in an earlier interview with Space UpClose.

Juno’s next close flyby over Jupiter's mysterious cloud tops takes place on July 16 during orbit 13.

The $1.1 Billion Juno was launched on Aug. 5, 2011 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida atop the most powerful version of the Atlas V rocket augmented by 5 solid rocket boosters and built by United Launch Alliance (ULA).

The Juno spacecraft was built by prime contractor Lockheed Martin in Denver.

The last NASA spacecraft to orbit Jupiter was Galileo in 1995. It explored the Jovian system until 2003.

Watch for Ken’s continuing onsite coverage of NASA, SpaceX, ULA, Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Orbital ATK and more space and mission reports direct from the Kennedy Space Center, Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida and Wallops Flight Facility, Virginia.

Stay tuned here for Ken's continuing Earth and Planetary science and human spaceflight news: – – twitter @ken_kremer – email: ken at

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