NASA’s Juno spacecraft executed a deep space maneuver earlier today, with the burn occurring more than 298 million miles (480 million kilometers) away from Earth.
Preliminary telemetry from the spacecraft indicates the deep space maneuver – Juno’s second – was completed as planned. The first maneuver was successfully executed on August 30, when the Leros-1b main engine was fired for 29 minutes 39 seconds.
Together, the maneuvers place Juno on course for its Earth flyby, which will occur as the spacecraft is completing one elliptical orbit around the sun. The Earth flyby is slated to boost Juno’s velocity by 16,330 mph (about 7.3 kilometers per second), placing the spacecraft on its final flight path for Jupiter. The closest approach to Earth, on Oct. 9, 2013, will occur when Juno is at an altitude of about 310 miles (500 kilometers).
“We need to go to Jupiter to learn our history because Jupiter is the largest of the planets, and it formed by grabbing most of the material left over from the sun’s formation,” explained said Scott Bolton, Juno’s principal investigator from the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio.
“Earth and the other planets are really made from the leftovers of the leftovers, so if we want to learn about the history of the elements that made Earth and life, we need to first understand what happened when Jupiter formed.”
Juno was launched on Aug. 5, 2011 and is expected to reach Jupiter in 2016. Once in orbit, the spacecraft will circle the planet 33 times, from pole-to-pole, and use its collection of eight science instruments to probe beneath the gas giant’s obscuring cloud cover. Juno’s science team will learn about Jupiter’s origins, structure, atmosphere and magnetosphere, and look for a potential solid planetary core.
Juno’s name originates from Greek and Roman mythology. The god Jupiter drew a veil of clouds around himself to hide his mischief, and his wife, the goddess Juno, was able to peer through the clouds and reveal Jupiter’s true nature.