Jupiter’s three largest moons – Io, Europe and Ganymede – will be visited by NASA’s Juno spacecraft, which is currently in Jupiter’s system after its recent “death dive” was postponed for four years.
Last week, it was announced that Juno witnessed an asteroid or comet hitting Jupiter and decaying in its atmosphere.
Earlier planned to plunge into Jupiter’s clouds after the completion of its 35th and final orbit on July 30, 2021, Juno’s extended mission will see the performance of close flights three months to 2025.
In Jupiter’s orbit since July 4, 2016, a 66 x 15-foot spacecraft has just completed 32. feathers (up close) of the giant planet and brought back a series of amazing new images.
Juno’s extended mission will see her orbit Jupiter 29 more times, during which she will perform close flights of Jupiter’s northern polar cyclones, Ganymede, Europe and Jo.
It will also conduct the first extensive exploration of the faint rings surrounding Jupiter. Photographed by Voyager 1 in 1979 and the Galileo orbiter of the 1990s, Jovi’s ring system mostly dusts two smaller moons, Amalthea and Thebes.
“Since its first orbit in 2016, Juno has provided one discovery after another about the inner workings of this massive gas giant,” said Chief Investigator Scott Bolton of the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio. “With the extended mission, we will answer fundamental questions that arose during Juno’s main mission as we reached farther from the planet to explore Jupiter’s ring system and Galilean satellites.”
Part of NASA’s New Frontiers program of medium-sized planetary science spacecraft, Juno is a leading mission that will now move from a mission focused on studying the gravity and magnetic fields of a giant planet to a full system explorer.
Here’s what Juno will do and when during his extended mission phase:
- Flyby of Ganymede within 600 miles / 1,000 km – June 7, 2021
- Flight over Europe within 200 km / 320 km – September 29, 2022.
- Flybys of Io within 1,500 miles / 1,500 km – December 30, 2023 and February 3, 2024.
- End of mission – September 2025
“The mission designers have done an amazing job by creating an expanded mission that preserves the only most valued resource on board – fuel,” said Ed Hirst, Juno Project Manager at JPL. “Gravitational assistance from multiple satellite flies directs our spacecraft through the Jovian system, providing a number of scientific possibilities at the same time.”
However, Juno will only avoid death for so long.
Come in September 2025 – with not even close to fuel enough to escape Jupiter’s gravity and thus continue its journey through space – its orbit will quickly disintegrate until it enters Jupiter’s upper atmosphere, warms up and burns.
Such a “fall to death” is necessary because Juno, which is not in progress, could theoretically collapse on one of Jupiter’s moons and pollute the environment with microbes from Earth.
It is these months that are exactly what Junon’s extended mission is designed to study.
The data Juno collects during its expanded mission will also help NASA and ESA (European Space Agency) plan their next two (and possibly three) missions to Jupiter and its moons:
China has also discussed two missions to the Jovie system – Jupiter Callisto Orbiter (JCO) and Jupiter System Observer (JSO), one of which could launch in 2030 and arrive in 2036. This could include landing on Jupiter’s small moon Callisto.
I wish you clear skies and wide eyes.