Chicago (IL) – NASA today said that it is preparing an “unprecedented, in-depth study of Jupiter”. Called Juno, the spacecraft set to launch aboard an Atlas rocket from Cape Canaveral, in August 2011 and reach Jupiter in 2016.
The spacecraft is expected orbit Jupiter 32 times, flying about 3000 miles over the planet’s cloud tops for approximately one year. The mission will be the first solar powered spacecraft designed to operate despite the great distance from the sun. The goal of the mission is to understand Jupiter’s formation, evolution and structure. Primary interests are the investigation of the existence of an ice-rock core, Jupiter’s intense magnetic field as well as water and ammonia clouds in the deep atmosphere.
According to NASA, “Jupiter safeguards secrets to the fundamental processes and conditions that governed our early solar system” beneath its cloud cover. Juno will use a camera and nine science instruments to see through the clouds.
Scott Bolton, Juno principal investigator from the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio, said that “Jupiter is more than 400 million miles from the sun or five times further than Earth. Juno is engineered to be extremely energy efficient.”
The Juno mission is the second spacecraft designed under NASA’s New Frontiers Program. The first was the Pluto New Horizons mission, launched in January 2006 and scheduled to reach Pluto’s moon Charon in 2015.