Juno Mission Saves Itself from Jupiter’s Shadow with Massive Burn!

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Jupiter’s Massive Shadow Spelled Death for Juno Mission, So the Craft Burned 10.5 Hours of Fuel to Avoid It!

Juno, the name of both the mission and the spacecraft NASA sent to Jupiter, just pulled off some next-level maneuvering. The craft course-corrected in order to avoid Jupiter’s shadow, which would have likely killed the craft and the mission. More on that in a second. First, though, let’s take a moment to appreciate what was nearly lost…

Juno – The Mission

If the sun is the “god” of all the planets in our solar system, then Jupiter is king. That is purely metaphorical, of course, but as the second-largest body in the system, it’s not wrong. Understanding Jupiter, its moons, and the effects of its gravity give us a huge advantage when it comes to furthering our understanding of the cosmos at large.

That’s why Juno’s so important. Per NASA’s website:

“Specifically, Juno will…

  • Determine how much water is in Jupiter’s atmosphere, which helps determine which planet formation theory is correct (or if new theories are needed)
  • Look deep into Jupiter’s atmosphere to measure composition, temperature, cloud motions and other properties
  • Map Jupiter’s magnetic and gravity fields, revealing the planet’s deep structure
  • Explore and study Jupiter’s magnetosphere near the planet’s poles, especially the auroras – Jupiter’s northern and southern lights – providing new insights about how the planet’s enormous magnetic force field affects its atmosphere.”

Here’s a video of some of the cool stuff Juno has done for us:

So What Happened to Juno with the Shadow?

Well, Jupiter, being as big and kingly as it is, casts a very large, cold shadow. The shadow is so large that it would take 12 hours for Juno to cross through it, and that could kill all of the systems. Theoretically, engineers could have used battery power to keep minimal systems online for that duration, but there was another—and it turns out, better—option on the table.

Instead of risking draining battery power for 12 hours with no guarantee of a recovery on the other side, engineers opted to burn the craft’s engines for 10.5 hours in order to avoid the shadow altogether. Basically, given the choice between expending battery resources and fuel resources, battery resources won the day.

10.5 hours is an unprecedented burn for such a craft and such a mission, but battery power will ensure that while the craft orbits Jupiter, sensors and communications equipment will remain operational. That is something fuel can’t do. Thankfully the gamble paid off. The burn was successful and we should continue seeing data from Juno for a long time now.

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Brandon Humphreys

Brandon Humphreys

I'm a wizard. I write stuff and it goes from my head into yours - Magic! Apart from that, I am the Senior Editor for Space Porn, a veteran, a rock guitarist, and a teacher.

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