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NASA: How Juno Can Survive Jupiter's 'Fireworks' or Radiation Level

Jun 27, 2016 02:48 AM EDT
Hubble Space Telescope Images Released
In order to complete its mission, Juno will have to withstand the harshest environment within the Solar System. To do that, engineers wrapped Juno in a special thin layer of shielding and its main core within a titanium vault, making it a tank-like spacecraft.
(Photo : NASA, ESA, and the Hubble SM4 ERO Team via Getty Images))

Juno is about to enter Jupiter's orbit, but it's not as easy as it sounds. To be able to continue its mission to observe and understand the composition of Jupiter, Juno has to survive Jupiter's "fireworks" or the extreme high-radiation levels of the giant gas planet.

Juno is a solar-powered spacecraft as big as a basketball court. NASA is expecting Juno to fly 2,900 miles (4,667 kilometers) above the northern clouds of the Solar System's largest planet. NASA scientists and engineers prepared Juno for the most difficult stage of its mission, but how can in withstand the harshest environment on the Solar System?

Jupiter's magnetic field can cause of radiation storm that Juno must be able to survive. The "circuit-frying" radiation of Jupiter can send a spacecraft into destruction. To withstand Jupiter's harsh surroundings, Juno is protected with a special radiation-hardened wiring and sensor shielding.

"We are not looking for trouble, we are looking for data. Problem is, at Jupiter, looking for the kind of data Juno is looking for, you have to go in the kind of neighborhoods where you could find trouble pretty quick," Dr. Scott Bolton, Juno's principal investigator said in a statement published by the Guardian.

Juno's core system is housed in a specialized armored titanium vault that weighs almost 172 kg (400 lbs). Supplying the power for Juno, the spacecraft is also equipped with three gigantic solar panels measuring 8.8 meters long and 2.8 meters wide.

To avoid radiation, the most important part is to limit Juno's exposure to the harsh environment as much as possible. The "equatorial regions" are said to have the highest radiation levels, so Juno is expected to avoid the area. Lockheed Martin engineers who helped design Juno also wrapped many components of the spacecraft in a layer of thin lead shielding that is not easily penetrated by particles. 

"We're basically an armored tank," Juno principle investigator Scott Bolton said in a statement published by Popular Science. "This mission is a first for NASA in many ways. It's probably one of the biggest challenges they've attempted, to get this close to Jupiter," Bolton added.

Despite the challenges involved with Juno's approach to the "biggest and baddest" planet in the Solar System, NASA is confident that Juno will be able to withstand Jupiter's orbit long enough to finish its mission.

After Jupiter, NASA in considering a mission to reach Jupiter's moon Europa, a moon argued to "potentially" hold alien life forms.


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