After a review by the board in April this year on the robotic Juno spacecraft returning valuable data and all its instruments and systems functioning to the best, the decision to spend three more years probing Jupiter’s inside was taken by NASA managers. This will grant the mission with more time to fulfil its scientific objectives, after the concerns that rose on the health of the spacecraft engine that stopped it from dropping into the lower and shorter orbit of Jupiter – the biggest planet of the solar system.
Favourable to Juno’s health report, exceptions have been made with the main engine. The managers at NASA, chose not to use it the same way as it was intended in 2016, that it will guide the spacecraft into the lower orbit of Jupiter that would have the orbiter go around the planet, once in every 14 days. The officials, now have decided, that Juno would follow an elongated orbit of 53 days.
On July, 4th the main engine of Juno fired successfully during its insertion burn around Jupiter. During this time although everything was perfectly going, the officials observed specific issues with the spacecraft’s valves during checkout, before another follow-up burn just a few months later which intended it to manoeuvre through the mission’s final orbit. It is why the officials are not ready to take the risk of its malfunctioning and thereby omitted the engine burn and letting Juno be in the initial orbit.
Juno till date has completed 12 flybys, with the 13th one close to finish as scheduled on 16th July. With the longer orbit, the spacecraft will take another three years extra to complete all its planned 32 scientific flybys. NASA has also agreed to fund the ongoing mission till 2022, as announced by the agency on Wednesday. The mission is all set to finish by July 2021 with all the data analytics completed by 2022.
Thomas Zurbuchen is the Associate Administrator of NASA’s science mission directorate in Washington. He mentioned that with the decision to fund the mission, not only can the mission team be able to continuously answer unknown questions about the planet Jupiter, which instigated all this exciting mission but will also solve numerous scientific puzzles that have been propagated by the mission’s discoveries. He also mentioned that with every flyby completed scientists will keep on unveiling new frontiers of this distant planet.