10 things to know about Juno

HAVING BEGUN ITS FIVE-YEAR JOURNEY to Jupiter, NASA’s Juno spacecraft has a long road ahead of it before it can get to work studying the largest planet in the Solar System. The demanding mission will involve a long cruise phase, a hazardous operation phase, and a kamikaze ending.

Here are 10 interesting and fascinating facts about the Juno spacecraft and its target planet.

  • Total flight distance to Jupiter is 2,800 million kilometres. If you could hop in your car and drive non-stop at 100 kilometres per hour, it would take you 3,196 years to cover that distance. Juno will do it in just 5 years!
  • One it reaches Jupiter, the spacecraft will spend 12 months completing 33 huge orbits around the planet.
  • The orbits will go north-south over Jupiter’s poles. This sort of orbit is used when mission planners want to cover every square metre of a planet—as Juno circles, the planet rotates underneath and the spacecraft can ‘map’ the whole globe, strip by strip.
  • The orbit will bring Juno to within 5,000 kilometres of the planet’s cloud tops every 11 days. This will be the closest a spacecraft has ever come to Jupiter, apart from the entry probe released by the Galileo spacecraft. (That probe plunged into Jupiter’s atmosphere on December 7, 1995, sending back data for about 57 minutes before being destroyed by the incredible temperatures and pressures.)
  • Jupiter is surrounded by an enormous and intense radiation field. Mission planners intend to keep Juno out of the worst of it—yet still, over the course of its 12 months investigating the giant planet, the spacecraft will receive a total radiation dose equivalent to 100 million dental X-rays. Ouch!

    A Juno solar panel

    Juno carries three 9m-long solar power panels.

  • Because of that, the spacecraft’s vital innards are protected inside a titanium box, known as ‘the vault’.
  • This is the first mission to go so far from the Sun without a plutonium power source. Instead, Juno has three huge, 9-metre-long high-efficiency solar power panels.
  • Juno is named after the Roman goddess and wife of the mythological figure, Jupiter. Juno was supposed to have the ability to see through clouds, so it is fitting that her name is given to a mission that will see below Jupiter’s thick cloud layers.
  • After 12 months orbiting Jupiter, Juno will be deliberately de-orbited and perform a fiery death plunge into the planet’s atmosphere. This will be done to eliminate the possibility of the spacecraft eventually crashing into one of Jupiter’s moons, potentially contaminating it with any microbes that might have been brought all the way from Earth.
  • Total cost of the mission is about US$1.1 billion, which includes all the development, construction, launch, cruise and operation costs through to the end of the mission on October 16, 2017.

Story by Jonathan Nally, SpaceInfo.com.au. Images courtesy NASA / JPL-Caltech / KSC.

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