Nasa’s Juno spacecraft has successfully completed a risky engine burn manoeuvre to enter Jupiter’s orbit.
The spacecraft is designed to provide a never before seen perspective on the interior of the gas giant and in doing so provide clues as to the formation of the early solar system.
Juno was launched from Cape Canaveral in 2011, aboard an Atlas-V rocket, and has spent the last 5 years travelling to Jupiter, making use of a number of gravity slingshot trajectories.
Prior to arriving at the planet the small spacecraft had to burn its engines for more than half an hour in order to slow down into orbit.
Had anything gone wrong, it is likely the spacecraft would have missed the planet entirely, heading out into the void of space.
Nonetheless, late yesterday, Nasa received a short transmission from Juno, indicating that all was well, and the spacecraft had reached its destination without problems.
“Independence Day always is something to celebrate, but today we can add to America’s birthday another reason to cheer – Juno is at Jupiter,” said Nasa administrator Charlie Bolden.
“And what is more American than a Nasa mission going boldly where no spacecraft has gone before? With Juno, we will investigate the unknowns of Jupiter’s massive radiation belts to delve deep into not only the planet’s interior, but into how Jupiter was born and how our entire solar system evolved.”
In its new orbit, Juno will conduct a number of dives close to the atmosphere of the planet as part of its primary mission.
These dives will take it through the powerful radiation belts surrounding Jupiter, which would cause an unshielded craft to take severe damage. To prevent this, many of Juno’s critical systems are protected by significant titanium shielding.
Juno carries nine primary instruments used to investigate the existence of a solid planetary core, map Jupiter’s intense magnetic field, measure the amount of water and ammonia in the deep atmosphere, and observe the planet’s auroras.
As well, the probe features a high-resolution camera, able to provide close-up images of the planet’s swirling clouds.
The majority of the mission’s science payload will come into use in October, however Nasa has confirmed that it will try to begin measurements as soon as possible.