It’s Official: Juno is Going to Jupiter

NASA has decided to return to Jupiter with a mission to conduct an unprecedented, in-depth study of the largest planet in our solar system. The mission is called Juno, and it will be the first in which a spacecraft is placed in a highly elliptical polar orbit around the giant planet to understand its formation, evolution and structure. Missions to Jupiter have been on again, off again, with a mission to Europa falling during the 2006 budget cuts, and the Jupiter Icy Moons Orbiter (which would have used a nuclear reactor to power an ion engine to send an orbiter to 3 of Jupiter’s moons) getting the ax in 2005. Juno has been on the table since 2004, surviving budget cuts, although the mission has experienced delays. But it looks official now, and the spacecraft is scheduled to launch in August 2011, reaching Jupiter in 2016.

Scientists say studying Jupiter is important because it hold secrets to the fundamental processes and conditions that governed our early solar system. “Jupiter is the archetype of giant planets in our solar system and formed very early, capturing most of the material left after the sun formed,” said Scott Bolton, Juno principal investigator from the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio. “Unlike Earth, Jupiter’s giant mass allowed it to hold onto its original composition, providing us with a way of tracing our solar system’s history.”

The spacecraft will orbit Jupiter 32 times, skimming about 3,000 miles over the planet’s cloud tops for approximately one year. The mission will be the first solar powered spacecraft designed to operate despite the great distance from the sun.

Artists concept of Juno at Jupiter. Credit: NASA
Artists concept of Juno at Jupiter. Credit: NASA

“Jupiter is more than 400 million miles from the sun or five times further than Earth,” Bolton said. “Juno is engineered to be extremely energy efficient.”

The spacecraft will use a camera and nine science instruments to study the hidden world beneath Jupiter’s colorful clouds. The suite of science instruments will investigate the existence of an ice-rock core, Jupiter’s intense magnetic field, water and ammonia clouds in the deep atmosphere, and explore the planet’s aurora borealis.

Understanding the formation of Jupiter is essential to understanding the processes that led to the development of the rest of our solar system and what the conditions were that led to Earth and humankind. Similar to the sun, Jupiter is composed mostly of hydrogen and helium. A small percentage of the planet is composed of heavier elements. However, Jupiter has a larger percentage of these heavier elements than the sun.

“Juno gives us a fantastic opportunity to get a picture of the structure of Jupiter in a way never before possible,” said James Green, director of NASA’s Planetary Division at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “It will allow us to take a giant step forward in our understanding on how giant planets form and the role that plays in putting the rest of the solar system together. ”

The last mission to Jupiter was the Galileo mission, which began its observations of the giant planet in 1995, made 35 orbits, and then was intentionally flown into the planet in 2003 to avoid any contamination of Jupiter’s moons.

Source: NASA

31 Replies to “It’s Official: Juno is Going to Jupiter”

  1. Finally! I’d love to see if they can find out about Jupiter’s core…or even the world under the clouds in general…

  2. What irks me as a taxpayer is if they would
    just allocate one measly percent of the defense budget or just slash the ‘pork ‘ , all these missions would be go. The Europa mission especially as it would have enormous implications if its ‘ocean was teeming with life. Too busy trying to destroy this planet to reach out to Mars and beyond,.
    Mars is our destiny, could of/should of already been there. ERRRR

  3. I wonder if this is an impulse or a break to ESA’s Jovian Europa Orbiter. It’s probably unlikely to have two probes around Jupiter at the same time, for the time being, but since JEO is still in quite an early phase of development maybe they wouldn’t coincide in time. And their scientific objectives seem not to overlap much, so…

  4. Mike,

    you said it all– it has me doing cartwheels in my mind–knowing that a fraction of the defence budget spent on more killing machines, many of which never even make it past the planning stage. all that money going to contractors, who realy need alot more (just kidding there!!). Nasa also kills me sometimes, when they know a mission to Europa or Enceledus would give them more press for their buck. Most of the society will lokk at this mission and go “haven’t we been there already–still looks the same to me.” don’t get me going…

  5. Jeff, probably not. I guess they’d go for the extended mission(s), since under solar power the probe would not be limited in fuel.

  6. Why in heaven’s name are we axing the Europa project? There seems to be someone in control up there in budget land who slashes any project that might have the potential to find life in favor of the ELECTRON COUNTING CLOUDCOVER MONITORING DEVICE FOR PLUTO or some other nonsense that no one besides a handful of academics really understands. Look for life on Mars? Nah, we axed that too in favor of the PHOTON GATHERING DARK ENERGY MEASURING DEVICE that will take 14 years to reach an orbit around asteroid X17B5E and send a whopping 32 minutes of data back home. I say junk the entire space program and give it to the billionaires and multimillionaires who are the people who will not only make a profit on it, but find cool things to do as well as answer the big questions we all have such as, ‘Is there life on Mars, Europa, Enceladus or Titan?’
    You people can call me bitter all you want, but the fact is that a majority of space science projects that run taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars a piece, deliver scientific data that is understood by less than 1000 people on this entire planet and subsequently has no practical use whatsoever.
    There’s less and less money to go around these days, let’s not blow it on silly stuff.

  7. Hot damn! This is great news.

    On the other hand, I’m still depressed about JIMO getting axed. It was a revolutionary mission concept and would have been the greatest payload ever flown.

    Also, can someone please invent a better propulsion system?? I’m not very patient by nature and these years it takes just to get from one planet to another…

    @LLDIAZ: Are you including links in your posts? That might be the problem.

  8. There isn’t a good reason why we don’t have an ACTIVE orbiter operating around EVERY planet in this solar System, and several of the bigger moons as well. If we sent up one probe for every dozen military satellites the amount of data we could collect would be…astronomical…

    More over, if the WORLD came to see that the United States was focusing on the stars, rather than making war, the rest of the earth’s population would very likely jump on board pretty damn quick. Space Travel isn’t an impulse found only in countries with a space program. It resides in the hearts and minds of anyone that has ever seen the night sky and wondered.

  9. Yes, but what’s it going to do? Bombard it with energy and examine the bounceback? Take pictures? HOW is it going to study Jupiter?

    (Full supporter, just want to know)

  10. Any mission excites me, but it does feel like we’re just redoing Galileo again.

    A lander or something to Europa is long overdue.

  11. The article says nothing about studying the moons of Jupiter. Pure science (studying Jupiter) is fine, but it doesn’t spark public interest. The public will see a bunch of photos and think that’s all they’re getting for their public funds. NASA needs to concentrate on landers and look at worlds where colonization will be possible in the future. It’s the only thing that will interest the public in the long run: a permanent human presence on another world (not the ISS).

  12. Here’s to Mike! (Raise your glass, folks.)

    And let’s drink a toast to an orbiter around every planet in the solar system. (Just think about how much time you could spend in front of your computer on a cloudy night with THAT a reality!)

  13. If you want to study Jupiter, Europa seems a pretty good place to do it from. If I could choose any single location for a probe – it would be Europa

  14. The nice thing about going to Jupiter, is that almost all the exoplanets that have been found are very similar to it. Perhaps if we learn more about this planet it will help us understand the others.

    On the same hand, it is very sad that more programs are not available for Mars and any moons that seem likely for some type of life. Considering the good news we just received about Mars we are missing out on taking this opportunity for advancement.

  15. I wrote:

    Jeff, probably not. I guess they’d go for the extended mission(s), since under solar power the probe would not be limited in fuel.

    Ouch! This one hurt. It’s wrong on so many levels.

    OK, with a working brain now:

    Probably not right away. They’d go for the extended mission(s), I guess, because under solar power the probe wouldn’t be limited in time as far as energy generation is concerned. Radioisotopes have a limited (although long) duration; solar power is unlimited. However, it would be limited in fuel for attitude control and orbit changes, so ultimately it would probably end up suffering the same fate as Gallileo, in order to avoid the possibility of contaminating Europa.

    Phew. I should learn not to comment here while I’m sleepy.

  16. I love beautiful images, but we need more to interest the public. I don’t think the majority of society really understands the importance of investigating our universe, not to mention its just cool. On the flipside, I’m always worried that by giving people hope that they can move to Mars it’ll kill any hope of fixing the damage we’ve done to our planet.

    And there are so many things we could do with a fraction of the defense budget, not just space and science. But I don’t see that changing a lot despite predictions that the US’s hegemony is waning.

  17. I’m actually glad that theres a new probe for Jupiter. Yes we’ve been there before but there is so much more to learn. Finding out about the history of Jupiter will reveal more about the formation of solar systems. Hell if it weren’t for Jupiter, we’de probably got squished by a comet or something. Doesn’t anyone remember the amazing pictures and the amazing discoveries that Cassini made about Saturn.
    Ever since I was a kid I always fantasized about a mission to Europa but I can wait if it means discovering more about the king of the solar system.

  18. You bet… spectral displays and pretty pictures of gas should always stand before national security. Especially since we only have about 11 active probe missions right now and 6 on the way in the next few years.

  19. I agree with Silver Thread.

    We need to have something around every planet all the time. At this point there is no reason not to. So much to learn and do, but we continue to waste our time and money 🙁

  20. For those alive at the time,the Apollo program
    not only brougth new tech to our lifes,
    unfortunately got taken for granted over time,
    but in a time of world turmoil for a weeks time
    brought the world together Apollo XI and XIII
    are great examples Think what a mission to Mars would do and not machines which we aren’t but living, breathing humans . As the comercial says, PRICELESS!!!!

  21. Or perhaps they axed Europa cuz they were told to stay away in 2001; A Space Odyssey.
    Maybe Obamas administration will refocus NASA and not just ‘talk the talk’

  22. mr obvious – thanks for mentioning that neocon catchphrase of catchphrases ‘national security’. It allows me to more conveniently ignore your opinion.

  23. Most importantly, where does this leave the Outer Planet Flagship? I guess that on its way to Titan and the Saturn system, right? I know OPF is still quite a few years in the future, but I don’t see NASA sending two missions in a row to Jupiter – even if Juno is a New Horizons class mission and OPF is a full international collaboration (NASA, ESA, JAXA… maybe even the russians?). Pity. Yeah, I’m all for Europa and Ganymede… and some nice views of Io and Calisto to boot.

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