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Juno Spacecraft Less than 10 Days to Jupiter; Spots Planet and its Largest Moons

Jun 27, 2016 02:14 AM EDT
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Prepare for interplanetary arrival. Less than 10 days before Juno enters the orbit of Jupiter, the spacecraft already has a full view of its destination.

On June 24, Juno is only 5.5 million miles (8.9 million kilometers) from Jupiter. The preparation has begun to initiate the burning of its rocket to enter the Jupiter's orbit in a carefully planned and calculated maneuver.

"We have over five years of spaceflight experience and only 10 days to Jupiter orbit insertion," Rick Nybakken, Juno project manager said in a press release. "It is a great feeling to put all the interplanetary space in the rearview mirror and have the biggest planet in the solar system in our windshield," Nybakken added. 

An image of Jupiter and its moons were taken by the JunoCam on June 21 from a distance of 6.8 million miles (10.9 million kilometers). Jupiter is seen at the center of the image together with its obvious bands of orange, brown and white. To its left are the four giant moons - Europa, Io, Callisto and Ganymede. Juno is scheduled to approach the northern hemisphere of the planet to gather a unique perspective of the planet. 

Reports say that continued communications between Earth and Juno had been initiated since June 11 to prepare for the spacecraft's arrival on Jupiter. The non-stop communication is important to inform scientists and engineers on the progress of the mission by the minute. This has got to be one of the most anticipated events for NASA.

The pre-burn itinerary, that is the pressurization of its propulsion system, is one of the most important stages of Juno's entry in Jupiter's orbit. The pre-burn will be initiated on June 28.  After that, all other unnecessary gears, not designed towards the insertion of Juno to the orbit will be turned off.

"If it doesn't help us get into orbit, it is shut down," Scott Bolton, Juno's principal investigator from the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio said in a statement. "That is how critical this rocket burn is. And while we will not be getting images as we make our final approach to the planet, we have some interesting pictures of what Jupiter and its moons look like from five-plus million miles away," Bolton added.

The JunoCam is expected to deliver fascinating and informative images of the mission. According to NASA, having the JunoCam on board is like having the public tag along during the mission. Juno will attempt the closest approach to Jupiter, closer than previous missions and will take the best image resolution ever taken of the massive planet.

Launched in 2011, Juno is expected to arrive at Jupiter on July 4.

 

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