NASA’s spacecraft, Juno reached Jupiter last night and placed itself in the orbit of the gas giant. The satellite will collect information about the sixth planet from the Sun until 2018 when it will throw itself into the deadly gaseous atmosphere.
Yesterday NASA headquarters looked like a scene from a science fiction movie when the stranded team of astronauts makes it back home safe. After 35 tense minutes of engine burn, while the spacecraft was positioning itself on Jupiter’s atmosphere, papers flew into the air, and the ground team started cheering as Juno reached its destination.
The stakes were high with this maneuver because if the engine decided to malfunction, then the spacecraft would have floated past Jupiter and on to open space without any chances of retrieval.
The entire mission was not problem-free. Just as Juno reached Jupiter last night, the autopilot function of the engine kicked on. The spacecraft was located in Juno’s belt at the moment, an area filled with electrons and intense radiation that could have seriously interfered with the navigation system.
“The more you know about the mission, you know just how tricky this maneuver was, and it had to be flawless,” Diane Brown, executive of the Juno program declared.
The principal investigator of the mission, Scott Bolton, declared that he let out a sigh of relief when the successful burn was registered.
“I really can’t put it into words. You imagine what it might feel like, but to actually have it, to know that we can all go to bed tonight not worrying about what’s going to happen tomorrow? It’s pretty awesome.”
The Juno mission, which costed around $1.1 billion, was launched in August 2011. Its principal aim is to map out the internal structure and composition of the gas giant.
By learning how the planet was made to be and how much water the atmosphere contains, the team members of the mission will find out how the planet took shape when the solar system was still forming.
Even though Juno reached Jupiter last night, the spacecraft will start studying the gas giant in late August. Until then, it will revolve in its 53-day orbit.
In August 2018, Juno is programmed to take a suicidal jump in the atmosphere of the gas giant.
Image source: YouTube