Monday, June 27, 2016

Looking Ahead: Space Science -- NASA Juno Mission's Jupiter Orbit Insertion On July 4, 2016

Jupiter is plainly the giant of our system. While standing on our home planet Earth, grilling on July 4, we each absorb about one third of a rad on a sunny day. Consider that little Juno will absorb over 20 million rad from its time in Jupiter's captive orbit.

We hope to learn much about what actually lies beneath the clouds -- and those now 700 year old storms, we see from high atop Jupiter, using Hubble or Earth bound telescopes. [The storm -- a tornado, several times the size of Earth -- is that reddish orange dot we see.]

If, that is -- if little Juno doesn't get clobbered by debris on the way in, or so irradiated that its little circuits conk out. The folks at JPL will be all white knuckle on July 4, while we barbeque. The first dip into orbit is by far the most dangerous. It will be blogged and tweeted, in near real time, from the NASA mission page. I will peek in from time to time, with my phone -- while at the grill, and later, by the pool at the club. But tomorrow, Tuesday -- the craft will pressurize its fuel cells. That's the next big event remaining, pre July 4:

. . . .On June 11, Juno began transmitting to and receiving data from Earth around the clock. This constant contact will keep the mission team informed on any developments with their spacecraft within tens of minutes of it occurring. On June 20, the protective cover that shields Juno's main engine from micrometeorites and interstellar dust was opened, and the software program that will command the spacecraft through the all-important rocket burn was uplinked.

One of the important near-term events remaining on Juno's pre-burn itinerary is the pressurization of its propulsion system on June 28. The following day, all instrumentation not geared toward the successful insertion of Juno into orbit around Jupiter on July 4 will be turned off. . . .

All of Juno’s instruments, including JunoCam, are scheduled to be turned back on approximately two days after achieving orbit. JunoCam images are expected to be returned from the spacecraft for processing and release to the public starting in late August or early September.

"This. . . is the start of something great," said Bolton. "In the future we will see Jupiter's polar auroras from a new perspective. We will see details in rolling bands of orange and white clouds like never before, and even the Great Red Spot. . . .

That JPL trailer above is only two minutes long, but summarizes well all you'll need to know, for next Monday. This little remote controlled craft has been sailing the inky-black frigid sea of space for just shy of five years -- and is now (as I write this) exactly one week away from its mission objective achievement. That in and of itself is jaw-slacking. Do stay tuned. I do truly see you. . . . and I'm beaming tonight, little copper-colored shepherd moonlette. . . . Pax tecum.

UPDATED: On Tuesday morning, the New York Times began running a nice, but longer form (at almost 4 minutes) video story on Juno's Jupiter arrival. Do recall that in mythology, Juno was the only demi-god who could see through Lord Jupiter's cloud covered deceptions -- thus the name of the craft:

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