NASA’s Juno Spacecraft is Now in Orbit Around Jupiter

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Loren Grush reports: NASA’s Juno spacecraft has successfully entered Jupiter’s orbit, bringing it closer to the planet than any probe has come so far. The vehicle reached the gas giant’s north pole this evening, and NASA received confirmation that the vehicle had turned on its main engine at 11:18PM ET. The engine burned for 35 minutes, helping to slow the spacecraft down enough so that it was captured by Jupiter’s gravitational pull. NASA confirmed that the burn was successful at around 11:53PM ET and that Juno was in its intended 53-day orbit.

The orbit insertion was a bit of a nail biter for NASA, as the spacecraft had to travel through regions of powerful radiation and rings of debris surrounding Jupiter. As an added precaution, the probe’s instruments were turned off for the maneuver so that nothing would interfere with the engine burn. But everything seemed to work flawlessly, and NASA received confirmation of the burn’s success almost exactly as expected. The timing only differed by 1 second from pre-burn predictions.

That confirmation came 48 minutes after the event actually occurred, though. That’s because it currently takes 48 minutes to send a signal from Jupiter to Earth. Juno started its burn at around 10:30PM ET and finished at 11:05PM ET, but NASA didn’t confirm all of this until just before midnight. If something had gone wrong and stopped the burn too early, the space agency wouldn’t have been in a position to fix the problem. Read the rest of this entry »