NASA's Juno Spacecraft Went Into 'Safe Mode' After Another Glitch

Oct 21, 2016 05:05 AM EDT

It's harder than they thought. NASA's Juno probe meant to conduct flybys to the giant gas planet, but before a scheduled flyby, Jupiter Juno experienced a series of technical glitches experiencing an engine trouble and activating its safe mode feature.

Juno, the solar-powered spacecraft entered Jupiter's orbit earlier this year after conducting a difficult 35-minute engine burn maneuver that slowed than the spacecraft enabling Jupiter's gravity to put Juno in orbit. Experts say that engine burn is one of the most difficult parts of the mission. As it turned out, surviving the harsh environment around the gas planet is no easy task as well.

A few days ago, it was reported that Juno experienced an engine trouble while orbiting the gas planet. The engine trouble was detected during a routine engine check. "Telemetry indicates that two helium check valves that play an important role in the firing of the spacecraft's main engine did not operate as expected during a command sequence that was initiated yesterday," Rick Nybakken, Juno project manager at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California said in a press release.  "The valves should have opened in a few seconds, but it took several minutes. We need to better understand this issue before moving forward with a burn of the main engine," Nybakken added.

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But after the engine trouble was sorted, the Juno probe faced another glitch as the spacecraft went into safe mode just before its scheduled flyby last Wednesday, Oct. 19.  Juno was supposed to take a new batch of images of the giant planet during its flyby that was delayed until December this year. The flyby could have yielded a ton of information about the planet's auroras, weather and its atmosphere in general. The American Astronomical Society (AAS) conducted a press briefing about Juno last Wednesday.

Due to these unexpected delays, the Juno probe might be extended until February 2018. Juno will have to wait until February next year to plunge to its death into the planet Jupiter.

"On the way in [Tuesday] night, the spacecraft went into safe mode," Scott Bolton, a planetary scientist at the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio and also the Juno mission's head scientists said during the conference. "It detected a condition that was not expected ... and it did exactly what it was supposed to do," Bolton added.

Experts say that the safe mode feature is meant to protect the spacecraft from unexpected circumstances. When the safe mode is activated, all of Juno's cameras were turned off. In cases like this, the scientific equipment on board will find the sun and will wait for further human instructions before functioning again.

There is no exact reason yet why the safe mode feature was activated. But the harsh environment and the radiation in Jupiter's atmosphere could have played a big role in the incident. However, NASA says Juno is now in perfect health and that scientists are already working to set all of Juno's equipment to full functionality.


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