Jupiter-bound Juno Probe Back in Full Operation After Earth Flyby Glitch

Juno swoops over Argentina
This reconstructed day side image of Earth is one of the 1st snapshots transmitted back home by NASA’s Jupiter-bound Juno spacecraft during its speed boosting flyby on Oct. 9, 2013. It was taken by the probes Junocam imager and methane filter at 12:06:30 PDT and an exposure time of 3.2 milliseconds. Juno was flying over South America and the southern Atlantic Ocean. The coastline of Argentina is visible at top right. Credit: NASA/JPL/SwRI/MSSS/Ken Kremer
See another cool Junocam image below[/caption]

Engineers have deftly managed to successfully restore NASA’s Jupiter-bound Juno probe back to full operation following an unexpected glitch that placed the ship into ‘safe mode’ during the speed boosting swing-by of Earth on Wednesday, Oct. 9 – the mission’s top scientist told Universe Today late Friday.

Juno came out of safe mode today!” Juno principal investigator Scott Bolton happily told me Friday evening. Bolton is from the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI), San Antonio, Texas.

The solar powered Juno spacecraft conducted a crucial slingshot maneuver by Earth on Wednesday that accelerated its velocity by 16,330 mph (26,280 km/h) thereby enabling it to be captured into polar orbit about Jupiter on July 4, 2016.

Dayside view of a sliver of Earth snapped by Juno during flyby on Oct. 9, 2013.  This mosaic has been reconstructed from raw image data captured by methane infrared filter on Junocam imager at 11:57:30 PDT.  Credit: NASA/JPL/SwRI/MSSS/Ken Kremer/Marco Di Lorenzo
Dayside view of a sliver of Earth snapped by Juno during flyby on Oct. 9, 2013. This mosaic has been reconstructed from raw image data captured by methane infrared filter on Junocam imager at 11:57:30 PDT. Credit: NASA/JPL/SwRI/MSSS/Ken Kremer/Marco Di Lorenzo

“The safe mode did not impact the spacecraft’s trajectory one smidgeon!”

Juno exited safe mode at 5:12 p.m. ET Friday, according to a statement from the Southwest Research Institute. Safe mode is a designated fault protective state that is preprogrammed into spacecraft software in case something goes amiss.

Juno’s flight track above Earth during Oct. 9, 2013 flyby. Credit: NASA/JPL
Juno’s flight track above Earth during Oct. 9, 2013 flyby. Credit: NASA/JPL

“The spacecraft is currently operating nominally and all systems are fully functional,” said the SwRI statement.

Although the Earth flyby did accomplish its primary goal of precisely targeting Juno towards Jupiter – within 2 kilometers of the aim point ! – the ship also suffered an unexplained anomaly that placed Juno into ‘safe mode’ at some point during the swoop past Earth.

“After Juno passed the period of Earth flyby closest approach at 12:21 PM PST [3:21 PM EDT] and we established communications 25 minutes later, we were in safe mode,” Juno Project manager Rick Nybakken, told me in a phone interview soon after Wednesday’s flyby of Earth. Nybakken is from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab in Pasadena, CA.

Credit: NASA/JPL
Credit: NASA/JPL

Nybakken also said that the probe was “power positive and we have full command ability.”

So the mission operations teams at JPL and prime contractor Lockheed Martin were optimistic about resolving the safe mode issue right from the outset.

“The spacecraft acted as expected during the transition into and while in safe mode,” acording to SwRI.

During the flyby, the science team also planned to observe Earth using most of Juno’s nine science instruments since the slingshot also serves as an important dress rehearsal and key test of the spacecraft’s instruments, systems and flight operations teams.

“The Juno science team is continuing to analyze data acquired by the spacecraft’s science instruments during the flyby. Most data and images were downlinked prior to the safe mode event.”

Juno’s closest approach took place over the ocean just off the tip of South Africa at about 561 kilometers (349 miles).

Juno launched atop an Atlas V rocket two years ago from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL, on Aug. 5, 2011 on a journey to discover the genesis of Jupiter hidden deep inside the planet’s interior.

The $1.1 Billion Juno probe is continuing on its 2.8 Billion kilometer (1.7 Billion mile) outbound trek to the Jovian system.

During a one year long science mission – entailing 33 orbits lasting 11 days each – the probe will plunge to within about 3000 miles of the turbulent cloud tops and collect unprecedented new data that will unveil the hidden inner secrets of Jupiter’s origin and evolution.

“Jupiter is the Rosetta Stone of our solar system,” says Bolton. “It is by far the oldest planet, contains more material than all the other planets, asteroids and comets combined and carries deep inside it the story of not only the solar system but of us. Juno is going there as our emissary — to interpret what Jupiter has to say.”

Read more about Juno’s flyby in my articles – at NBC News; here, and Universe Today; here, here and here

Ken Kremer

NASA’s Juno Spacecraft Returns 1st Flyby images of Earth while Sailing On to Jupiter

Following the speed boosting slingshot of Earth on Wednesday, Oct. 9, that sent NASA’s Juno orbiter hurtling towards Jupiter, the probe has successfully transmitted back data and the very first flyby images despite unexpectedly going into ‘safe mode’ during the critical maneuver.

Juno is transmitting telemetry today,” spokesman Guy Webster, of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab (JPL), told me in a phone interview late today (Oct. 10), as Juno continues sailing on its 2.8 Billion kilometer (1.7 Billion mile) outbound trek to the Jovian system.

The new images of Earth captured by the Junocam imager serves as tangible proof that Juno is communicating.

“Juno is still in safe mode today (Oct. 10),” Webster told Universe Today.

“Teams at mission control at JPL and Lockheed Martin are actively working to bring Juno out of safe mode. And that could still require a few days,” Webster explained.

Lockheed Martin is the prime contractor for Juno.

The initial raw images of Earth snapped by the craft’s Junocam imager were received by ground stations late today.

See above a day light image mosaic which I reconstructed and realigned based on the original raw image (see below) taken with the camera’s methane filter on Oct. 9 at 12:06:30 PDT (3:06:30 PM EST). Juno was to be flying over South America and the southern Atlantic Ocean.

This day side raw image of Earth is one of the 1st snapshots transmitted back home today by NASA’s Juno spacecraft during its speed boosting flyby on Oct. 9, 2013. It was taken by the probes Junocam imager and methane filter at 12:06:30 PDT and an exposure time of 3.2 ms. Credit: NASA/JPL/SwRI/MSSS
This day side raw image of Earth is one of the 1st snapshots transmitted back home today by NASA’s Juno spacecraft during its speed boosting flyby on Oct. 9, 2013. It was taken by the probes Junocam imager and methane filter at 12:06:30 PDT and an exposure time of 3.2 milliseconds. Juno was due to be flying over South America and the southern Atlantic Ocean. Credit: NASA/JPL/SwRI/MSSS

Juno performed a crucial swingby of Earth on Wednesday that accelerated the probe by 16330 MPH to enable it to arrive in orbit around Jupiter on July 4, 2016.

However the gravity assist maneuver did not go entirely as planned.

Shortly after Wednesday’s flyby, Juno Project manager Rick Nybakken, of JPL, told me in a phone interview that Juno had entered safe mode but that the probe was “power positive and we have full command ability.”

“After Juno passed the period of Earth flyby closest approach at 12:21 PM PST [3:21 PM EDT] and we established communications 25 minutes later, we were in safe mode,” Nybakken explained.

The safe mode was triggered while Juno was in an eclipse mode, the only eclipse it will experience during its entire mission.

The Earth flyby did accomplish its objective by placing the $1.1 Billion Juno spacecraft exactly on course for Jupiter as intended.

“We are on our way to Jupiter as planned!”

“None of this affected our trajectory or the gravity assist maneuver – which is what the Earth flyby is,” Nybakken stated.

Juno’s closest approach was over South Africa at about 561 kilometers (349 miles).

Juno’s flight track above Earth during Oct. 9, 2013 flyby. Credit: NASA/JPL
Juno’s flight track above Earth during Oct. 9, 2013 flyby. Credit: NASA/JPL

During the flyby, the science team also planned to observe Earth using most of Juno’s nine science instruments since the slingshot also serves as a key test of the spacecraft systems and the flight operations teams.

Juno also was to capture an unprecedented new movie of the Earth/Moon system.

Many more images were snapped and should be transmitted in coming days that eventually will show a beautiful view of the Earth and Moon from space.

“During the earth flyby we have most of our instruments on and will obtain a unique movie of the Earth Moon system on our approach, Juno principal investigator Scott Bolton told me. Bolton is from the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI), San Antonio, Texas.

“We will also calibrate instuments and measure earth’s magnetosphere, obtain closeup images of the Earth and the Moon in UV [ultraviolet] and IR [infrared],” Bolton explained to Universe Today.

Juno is approaching the Earth from deep space, from the sunlit side.

“Juno will take never-before-seen images of the Earth-moon system, giving us a chance to see what we look like from Mars or Jupiter’” says Bolton.

Here is a description of Junocam from the developer – Malin Space Science Systems

“Like previous MSSS cameras (e.g., Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter’s Mars Color Imager) Junocam is a “pushframe” imager. The detector has multiple filter strips, each with a different bandpass, bonded directly to its photoactive surface. Each strip extends the entire width of the detector, but only a fraction of its height; Junocam’s filter strips are 1600 pixels wide and about 155 rows high. The filter strips are scanned across the target by spacecraft rotation. At the nominal spin rate of 2 RPM, frames are acquired about every 400 milliseconds. Junocam has four filters: three visible (red/green/blue) and a narrowband “methane” filter centered at about 890 nm.”

Juno soars skyward to Jupiter on Aug. 5, 2011 from launch pad 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station at 12:25 p.m. EDT. View from the VAB roof. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Juno soars skyward to Jupiter on Aug. 5, 2011 from launch pad 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station at 12:25 p.m. EDT. View from the VAB roof. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Juno launched atop an Atlas V rocket two years ago from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL, on Aug. 5, 2011 on a journey to discover the genesis of Jupiter hidden deep inside the planet’s interior.

During a one year long science mission – entailing 33 orbits lasting 11 days each – the probe will plunge to within about 3000 miles of the turbulent cloud tops and collect unprecedented new data that will unveil the hidden inner secrets of Jupiter’s origin and evolution.

NBC News has also featured this Juno story – here

Read more about Juno’s flyby in my articles – here and here

Stay tuned here for continuing Juno, LADEE, MAVEN and more up-to-date NASA news.

Ken Kremer

Amateur Images Show Juno’s ‘Slingshot’ Around Earth Was a Success

With the government shutdown, news out of NASA is sometimes sparse. But thankfully amateur astronomers can fill in some of the holes! While Juno’s project manager Rick Nybakken has confirmed that the spacecraft successfully completed its slingshot flyby of Earth yesterday, images taken by amateur astronomers around the world also conclusively confirm that Juno is now “bang on target!” tweeted Nick Howes of the Remanzacco Observatory team. This image from Howes, Ernesto Guido and Martino Nicolini shows the path of Juno across the sky, as seen from a remote telescope in Spain. “The spacecraft is trailed in the image due to its fast speed,” the team wrote on their website, and extrapolations of Juno’s orbit shows it is heading straight for Jupiter.

You can see a gallery of images of Juno’s flyby taken by amateurs on this SpaceWeather.com page.

Meanwhile, there are some concerns about the spacecraft going into safe mode immediately after the flyby. Our previous article by Ken Kremer reported that the mission teams are assessing the situation, and that the spacecraft is “power positive.”

One idea of why the spacecraft went into safe mode is that the battery was being depleted faster than anticipated, but the team is still working to confirm the reason.

Closest approach was at 12:21 PM PST (19:21 UTC, 3:21 PM EDT).

For more information about the flyby, check out this new video from Bill Nye the Science Guy — who has a new video series called “Why With Nye.”

Juno's flyby path, via Heaven's Above.
Juno’s flyby path, via Heaven’s Above.

NASA’s Juno probe Gets Gravity Speed Boost during Earth Flyby But Enters ‘Safe Mode’

Developing story – NASA’s Juno-bound Jupiter orbiter successfully blazed past Earth this afternoon (Oct. 9) and gained its huge and critical gravity assisted speed boost that’s absolutely essential to reach the Jovian system in 2016.

However, Juno’s project manager Rick Nybakken told me moments ago that the Juno spacecraft unexpectedly entered ‘safe mode’ during the fly by maneuver and the mission teams are assessing the situation.

But the very good news is “Juno is power positive at this time. And we have full command ability,” said Nybakken in an exclusive phone interview with me.

“After Juno passed the period of Earth flyby closest approach at 12:21 PM PST [3:21 PM EDT] and we established communications 25 minutes later, we were in safe mode,” Nybakken told me. Nybakken is the Juno mission project manager at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab in Pasadena, CA.

Furthermore, the Earth flyby did place the $1.1 Billion Juno spacecraft exactly on course for Jupiter as intended.

“We are on our way to Jupiter as planned!”

“None of this affected our trajectory or the gravity assist maneuver – which is what the Earth flyby is.”

Juno’s closest approach was over South Africa at about 500 kilometers (350 miles).

“Juno hit the target corridor within 2 km of the aim point,” Nybakken elaborated to Universe Today.

Juno needs the 16,330 mph velocity boost from the Earth swingby because the Atlas V launcher was not powerful enough to hurtle the 8000 pound (3267 kg) craft fast enough on a direct path to Jupiter.

And the team is in full radio contact with the probe. Safe mode is a designated protective state.

“Prior to the eclipse, which was a few minutes earlier than closest approach, the spacecraft was ‘nominal’. When we came out of the eclipse Juno was in safe mode,” Nybakken stated.

“We are going through safe mode diagnostics steps right now.”

“We have established full uplink and downlink. And we have full command ability of the spacecraft.”

First JunoCam image of the day! Taken at 11:07 UTC when Juno was 206,000 Kilometers from the Moon.
First JunoCam image of the day! Taken at 11:07 UTC when Juno was 206,000 Kilometers from the Moon.

Speed boosting slingshots have been used on numerous planetary missions in the past

The spacecraft’s power situation and health is as good as can be expected.

“Juno is power positive at this time and sun pointed and stable. So we are very pleased about that,” Nybakken explained.

I asked if Juno had ever entered ‘safe mode’ before?

“We have never been in safe mode before. We are in a safe, stable state.”

“We are investigating this,” said Nybakken.

Credit: NASA/JPL
Credit: NASA/JPL

Today’s (Oct. 9) Earth flyby is the only time the spacecraft experiences an eclipse period during Juno’s entire five year and 1.7 Billion mile (2.8 Billion km) trek to Jupiter, the largest planet in our solar system.

When it finally arrives at Jupiter on July 4, 2016, Juno will become the first polar orbiting spacecraft at the gas giant.

NASA’s Juno spacecraft blasted off atop an Atlas V rocket two years ago from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL, on Aug. 5, 2011 on a journey to discover the genesis of Jupiter hidden deep inside the planet’s interior.

Juno soars skyward to Jupiter on Aug. 5, 2013 from launch pad 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station at 12:25 p.m. EDT. View from the VAB roof. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Juno soars skyward to Jupiter on Aug. 5, 2011 from launch pad 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station at 12:25 p.m. EDT. View from the VAB roof. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
The science team had also hoped to use the on board JunoCam imager to make a cool and unprecedented movie of Earth as it approached from the sunlit side – showing the passage as though you were a visitor from outer space.

I had an inkling that something might be amiss this afternoon when no images of Earth appeared on the Juno mission website.

So I asked the status.

“We don’t know yet if any images of Earth were collected. We hope to know soon.”

Juno flew past the Moon before the gravity assist slingshot with Earth. And it did manage to successfully capture several lunar images. See the images herein.

Read more about Juno in my flyby preview story – here.

Note: Due to the continuing chaos resulting from the US government partial shutdown caused by gridlocked politico’s in Washington DC, NASA public affairs remains shut down and is issuing no official announcements on virtually anything related to NASA! This pertains to Juno’s flyby, LADEE’s lunar arrival on Oct. 6, MAVEN’s upcoming launch in November, Cygnus at the ISS, and more!

Stay tuned here for continuing Juno, LADEE, MAVEN and more up-to-date NASA news.

Ken Kremer

NASA’s Juno Jupiter-bound space probe will fly by Earth for essential speed boost on Oct 9, 2013. Credit: NASA/JPL
NASA’s Juno Jupiter-bound space probe will fly by Earth for essential speed boost on Oct 9, 2013. Credit: NASA/JPL

Juno Careening to Earth for Critical Flyby Boost and Cool Movie Making on Oct. 9 – Watch SLOOH Live

Trajectory Map of Juno’s Earth Flyby on Oct. 9, 2013
The Earth gravity assist is required to accelerate Juno’s arrival at Jupiter on July 4, 2016 and will capture an unprecedented movie of the Earth/Moon system. Credit: NASA/JPL
Details on how to watch via Slooh – see below [/caption]

NASA’s solar powered Jupiter-bound Juno orbiter is careening towards Earth for an absolutely critical gravity assisted fly by speed boost while capturing an unprecedented movie view of the Earth/Moon system – on its ultimate quest to unveiling Jupiter’s genesis!

“Juno will flyby Earth on October 9 to get a gravity boost and increase its speed in orbit around the Sun so that it can reach Jupiter on July 4, 2016,” Juno chief scientist Dr. Scott Bolton told Universe Today in an exclusive new Juno mission update – as the clock is ticking to zero hour. “The closest approach is over South Africa.”

All this ‘high frontier’ action comes amidst the utterly chaotic US government partial shutdown, that threatened the launch of the MAVEN Mars orbiter, has halted activity on many other NASA projects and stopped public announcements of the safe arrival of NASA’s LADEE lunar orbiter on Oct. 6, Juno’s flyby and virtually everything else related to NASA!

Bolton confirmed that the shutdown fortunately hasn’t altered or killed Juno’s flyby objectives. And ops teams at prime contractor Lockheed Martin have rehearsed and all set.

And some more good news is that Slooh will track the Juno Earth Flyby “LIVE” – for those hoping to follow along. Complete details below!

“The shutdown hasn’t affected our operations or plans, Bolton told me. Bolton is Juno’s principal investigator from the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI), San Antonio, Texas.

“Juno is 100% healthy.”

“But NASA is unable to participate in our public affairs and press activities,” Bolton elaborated.

NASA’s Juno Jupiter-bound space probe will fly by Earth for essential speed boost on Oct 9, 2013. Credit: NASA/JPL
NASA’s Juno Jupiter-bound space probe will fly by Earth for essential speed boost on Oct 9, 2013. Credit: NASA/JPL

97% of NASA’s employees are furloughed – including public affairs – due to the legal requirements of the shutdown!

Credit: NASA/JPL
Credit: NASA/JPL
Juno will also capture an unprecedented new movie of the Earth/Moon system.

A full up science investigation of our Home Planet by Juno is planned, that will also serve as a key test of the spacecraft and its bevy of state of the art instruments.

“During the earth flyby we have most of our instruments on and will obtain a unique movie of the Earth Moon system on our approach.

“We will also calibrate instuments and measure earth’s magnetosphere, obtain closeup images of the Earth and the Moon in UV [ultraviolet] and IR [infrared],” Bolton explained to Universe Today.

The flyby will accelerate the spacecraft’s velocity by 16,330 mph.

Where is the best view of Juno’s flyby, I asked?

“The closest approach is over South Africa and is about 500 kilometers [350 miles],” Bolton replied.

The time of closest approach is 3:21 p.m. EDT (12:21 PDT / 19:21 UTC) on Oct. 9, 2013

Watch this mission produced video about Juno and the Earth flyby:

Video caption: On Oct. 9, 2013, NASA’s Jupiter-bound Juno spacecraft is making a quick pass to get a gravity boost from the mother planet. Dr. Scott Bolton of Southwest Research Institute® is the Juno mission principal investigator, leading an international science team seeking to answer some fundamental questions about the gas giant and, in turn, about the processes that led to formation of our solar system.

NASA’s Juno spacecraft blasted off atop an Atlas V rocket two years ago from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL, on Aug. 5, 2011 to begin a 2.8 billion kilometer science trek to discover the genesis of Jupiter hidden deep inside the planet’s interior.

Juno is on a 5 year and 1.7 Billion mile (2.8 Billion km) trek to the largest planet in our solar system. When it arrives at Jupiter on July 4, 2016, Juno will become the first polar orbiting spacecraft at the gas giant.

Juno’s flight track above Earth during Oct. 9, 2013 flyby. Credit: NASA/JPL
Juno’s flight track above Earth during Oct. 9, 2013 flyby. Credit: NASA/JPL

During a one year science mission – entailing 33 orbits lasting 11 days each – the probe will plunge to within about 3000 miles of the turbulent cloud tops and collect unprecedented new data that will unveil the hidden inner secrets of Jupiter’s genesis and evolution.

The goal is to find out more about the planets origins, interior structure and atmosphere, observe the aurora, map the intense magnetic field and investigate the existence of a solid planetary core

Why does Juno need a speed boost from Earth?

“A direct mission to Jupiter would have required about 50 percent more fuel than we loaded,” said Tim Gasparrini, Juno program manager for Lockheed Martin Space Systems, in a statement.

“Had we not chosen to do the flyby, the mission would have required a bigger launch vehicle, a larger spacecraft and would have been more expensive.”

Juno soars skyward to Jupiter on Aug. 5, 2011 from launch pad 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station at 12:25 p.m. EDT. View from the VAB roof. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Juno soars skyward to Jupiter on Aug. 5, 2011 from launch pad 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station at 12:25 p.m. EDT. View from the VAB roof. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

Viewers near Cape Town, South Africa will have the best opportunity to view the spacecraft traveling across the sky.

Juno itself will most likely not be visible to the unaided eye, but binoculars or a small telescope with a wide field should provide an opportunity to view, according to a Slooh statement.

Slooh will track Juno live on October 9th, 2013.

Check here for international starting times: http://goo.gl/7ducFs – and for the Slooh broadcast hosted by Paul Cox.

Viewers can view the event live on Slooh.com using their computer or mobile device, or by downloading the free Slooh iPad app in the iTunes store. Questions can be asked during the broadcast via Twitter by using the hashtag #nasajuno -says Slooh.

Amidst the government shutdown, Juno prime contractor Lockheed Martin is working diligently to ensure the mission success.

Because there are NO 2nd chances!

“The team is 100 percent focused on executing the Earth flyby successfully,” said Gasparrini.

“We’ve spent a lot of time looking at possible off-nominal conditions. In the presence of a fault, the spacecraft will stay healthy and will perform as planned.”

Stay tuned here for continuing Juno, LADEE, MAVEN and more up-to-date NASA news.

And be sure to check back here for my post-flyby update.

What’s not at all clear is whether Juno will detect any signs of ‘intelligent life’ in Washington D.C.!

Ken Kremer

…………….

Learn more about Juno, LADEE, MAVEN, Curiosity, Mars rovers, Cygnus, Antares, SpaceX, Orion, the Gov’t shutdown and more at Ken’s upcoming presentations

Oct 8: “NASA’s Historic LADEE Lunar & Antares/Cygnus ISS Rocket Launches from Virginia”& “Curiosity, MAVEN, Juno and Orion updates”; Princeton University, Amateur Astronomers Assoc of Princeton (AAAP), Princeton, NJ, 8 PM

Spotting Juno: NASA’s Jupiter-bound Spacecraft Gets a Boost from Earth on October 9th, 2013

Psst! Live in South Africa and read Universe Today? Then you might just get a peak at the Juno spacecraft as it receives a boost from our fair planet on the evening of October 9th, 2013.

Launched from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on August 5th, 2011 atop an Atlas 5 rocket in a 551 configuration, Jupiter-bound Juno is approaching the Earth from interior to its orbit over the next month. Its closest approach to the Earth during its October 9th flyby will occur at 19:21 Universal Time (UT) which is 3:21 PM Eastern Daylight Saving Time. The spacecraft will pass 559 kilometres over the South Atlantic to a point 200 kilometres off of the southeastern coast of South Africa at latitude -34.2° south & longitude 34° east.

For context, this is just about 25% higher than the International Space Station orbits at an average of 415 kilometres above the Earth. The ISS is 108.5 metres across on its longest dimension, and we wouldn’t be surprised if Juno were a naked eye object for well placed observers watching from a dark sky site around Cape Town, South Africa. Especially if one of its three enormous 8.9 metre long solar panels were to catch the Sun and flare Iridium-style!

Two minutes before closest approach, Juno will experience the only eclipse of its mission, passing into the umbra of Earth’s shadow for about 20 minutes. Chris Peat at Heavens-Above also told Universe Today that observers in India are also well-placed to catch sight of Juno with binoculars after it exits the Earth’s shadow.

Juno passed its half-way mark to Jupiter last month on August 12th when the “odometer clicked over” to 9.464 astronomical units. Juno will enter orbit around Jupiter on July 4th, 2016. Juno will be the second spacecraft after Galileo to permanently orbit the largest planet in our solar system.

The passage of Juno through the Earth's shadow on October 9th, 2013. (Credit and Copyright: Heavens-Above, used with permission).
The passage of Juno through the Earth’s shadow on October 9th, 2013. (Credit and Copyright: Heavens-Above, used with permission).

Catching a flyby of Juno will be a unique event. Unfortunately, the bulk of the world will miss out, although you can always vicariously fly along with Juno with Eyes on the Solar System. Juno is currently moving about 7 km/s relative to the Earth, and will move slightly faster than the ISS in its apparent motion across the sky from west to east before hitting Earth’s shadow. This slingshot will give Juno a 70% boost in velocity to just under 12km/s relative to Earth, just slower than Pioneer 10’s current motion relative to the Sun of 12.1km/s.

At that speed, Juno will be back out past the Moon in about 10 hours after flyby. There’s a chance that dedicated imagers based along North American longitudes could still spy Juno later that evening.

Juno approaches the Earth from the direction of the constellation Libra and will recede from us in the direction of the constellation Perseus on the night of October 9th.

The ground track covered by Juno as it passes by the Earth. (Credit & Copyright: Heavens-Above, used with permission).
The ground track covered by Juno as it passes by the Earth. (Credit & Copyright: Heavens-Above, used with permission).

There’s also a precedent for spotting such flybys previous. On August 18th, 1999, NASA’s Cassini spacecraft made a flyby of the Earth at 1,171 kilometres distant, witnessed by observers based in the eastern Pacific region. Back then, a fuss had been raised about the dangers that a plutonium-powered spacecraft might posed to the Earth, should a mis-calculation occur. No such worries surround Juno, as it will be the first solar-powered spacecraft to visit the outer solar system.

And NASA wants to hear about your efforts to find and track Juno during its historic 2013 flyby of the Earth. JPL Horizons lists an ephemeris for the Juno spacecraft, which is invaluable for dedicated sky hunters. You can tailor the output for your precise location, then aim a telescope at low power at the predicted right ascension and declination at the proper time, and watch. Precise timing is crucial; I use WWV shortwave radio broadcasting out of Fort Collins, Colorado for ultra-precise time when in the field.

As of this writing, there are no plans to broadcast the passage of Juno live, though I wouldn’t be surprised if someone like Slooh decides to undertake the effort. Also, keep an eye on Heavens-Above, as they may post sighting opportunities as well. We’ll pass ‘em along if they surface!

Late Breaking: And surface they have… a page dedicated to Juno’s flyby of Earth is now up on Heavens-Above.

Juno is slated to perform a one year science mission studying the gravity and magnetic field of Jupiter as well as the polar magnetosphere of the giant planet. During this time, Juno will make 33 orbits of Jupiter to complete its primary science mission. Juno will study the environs of Jupiter from a highly inclined polar orbit, which will unfortunately preclude study of its large moons. Intense radiation is a primary hazard for spacecraft orbiting Jupiter, especially one equipped with solar panels. Juno’s core is shielded by one centimetre thick titanium walls, and it must thread Jupiter’s radiation belts while passing no closer than 4,300 kilometres above the poles on each pass. One run-in with the Io Plasma Torus would do the spacecraft in. Like Galileo, Juno will be purposely deorbited into Jupiter after its primary mission is completed in October 2017.

If you live in the right location, be sure to check out Juno as it visits the Earth, one last time. We’ll keep you posted on any live broadcasts or any further info on sighting opportunities as October 9th draws near!

– Got pics of Juno on its flyby of the Earth? Send ’em in to Universe Today!

– You can also follow the mission on Twitter as @NASAJuno.

Boeing Commercial Space Taxi and Atlas V Launcher Move Closer to Blastoff

The next time that American astronauts launch to space from American soil it will surely be aboard one of the new commercially built “space taxis” currently under development by a trio of American aerospace firms – Boeing, SpaceX and Sierra Nevada Corp – enabled by seed money from NASA’s Commercial Crew Program (CCP).

Boeing has moved considerably closer towards regaining America’s lost capability to launch humans to space when the firm’s privately built CST-100 crew capsule achieved two key new milestones on the path to blastoff from Florida’s Space Coast.

The CST-100 capsule is designed to carry a crew of up to 7 astronauts on missions to low-Earth orbit (LEO) and the International Space Station (ISS) around the middle of this decade.

Boeing CST-100 crew vehicle docks at the ISS. Credit: Boeing
Boeing CST-100 crew vehicle docks at the ISS. Credit: Boeing

Boeing’s crew transporter will fly to space atop the venerable Atlas V rocket built by United Launch Alliance (ULA) from Launch Complex 41 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

The Boeing and ULA teams recently completed the first wind tunnel tests of a 7 percent scale model of the integrated capsule and Atlas V rocket (photo above) as well as thrust tests of the modified Centaur upper stage.

The work is being done under the auspices of NASA’s Commercial Crew Integrated Capability (CCiCap) initiative, intended to make commercial human spaceflight services available for both US government and commercial customers, such as the proposed Bigelow Aerospace mini space station.

Boeing CST-100 capsule mock-up, interior view. Credit: Ken Kremer - kenkremer.com
Boeing CST-100 capsule mock-up, interior view. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

Since its maiden liftoff in 2002, the ULA Atlas V rocket has flawlessly launched numerous multi-billion dollar NASA planetary science missions like the Curiosity Mars rover, Juno Jupiter orbiter and New Horizons mission to Pluto as well as a plethora of top secret Air Force spy satellites.

But the two stage Atlas V has never before been used to launch humans to space – therefore necessitating rigorous testing and upgrades to qualify the entire vehicle and both stages to meet stringent human rating requirements.

“The Centaur has a long and storied past of launching the agency’s most successful spacecraft to other worlds,” said Ed Mango, NASA’s CCP manager at the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. “Because it has never been used for human spaceflight before, these tests are critical to ensuring a smooth and safe performance for the crew members who will be riding atop the human-rated Atlas V.”

The combined scale model CST-100 capsule and complete Atlas V rocket were evaluated for two months of testing this spring inside an 11- foot diameter transonic wind tunnel at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif.

“The CST-100 and Atlas V, connected with the launch vehicle adaptor, performed exactly as expected and confirmed our expectations of how they will perform together in flight,” said John Mulholland, Boeing vice president and program manager for Commercial Programs.

Testing of the Centaur stage centered on characterizing the flow of liquid oxygen from the oxygen tank through the liquid oxygen-feed duct line into the pair of RL-10 engines where the propellant is mixed with liquid hydrogen and burned to create thrust to propel the CST-100 into orbit.

Boeing is aiming for an initial three day manned orbital test flight of the CST-100 during 2016, says Mulholland.

Artist's concept shows Boeing's CST-100 spacecraft separating from the first stage of its launch vehicle, a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket, following liftoff from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. Credit: Boeing
Artist’s concept shows Boeing’s CST-100 spacecraft separating from the first stage of its launch vehicle, a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket, following liftoff from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. Credit: Boeing

But that date is dependent on funding from NASA and could easily be delayed by the ongoing sequester which has slashed NASA’s and all Federal budgets.

Chris Ferguson, the commander of the final shuttle flight (STS-135) by Atlantis, is leading Boeing’s flight test effort.

Boeing has leased one of NASA’s Orbiter Processing Facility hangers (OPF-3) at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) for the manufacturing and assembly of its CST-100 spacecraft.

Mulholland told me previously that Boeing will ‘cut metal’ soon. “Our first piece of flight design hardware will be delivered to KSC and OPF-3 around mid 2013.”

NASA’s CCP program is fostering the development of the CST-100 as well as the SpaceX Dragon and Sierra Nevada Dream Chaser to replace the crew capability of NASA’s space shuttle orbiters.

The Atlas V will also serve as the launcher for the Sierra Nevada Dream Chaser space taxi.

Since the forced retirement of NASA’s shuttle fleet in 2011, US and partner astronauts have been 100% reliant on the Russians to hitch a ride to the ISS aboard the Soyuz capsules – at a price tag exceeding $60 Million per seat.

Simultaneously on a parallel track NASA is developing the Orion crew capsule and SLS heavy lift booster to send humans to the Moon and deep space destinations including Asteroids and Mars.

And don’t forget to “Send Your Name to Mars” aboard NASA’s MAVEN orbiter- details here. Deadline: July 1, 2013

Ken Kremer

…………….
Learn more about Conjunctions, Mars, Curiosity, Opportunity, MAVEN, LADEE and NASA missions at Ken’s upcoming lecture presentations:

June 4: “Send your Name to Mars” and “CIBER Astro Sat, LADEE Lunar & Antares ISS Rocket Launches from Virginia”; Rodeway Inn, Chincoteague, VA, 8:30 PM

June 11: “Send your Name to Mars” and “LADEE Lunar & Antares ISS Rocket Launches from Virginia”; NJ State Museum Planetarium and Amateur Astronomers Association of Princeton (AAAP), Trenton, NJ, 730 PM.

June 12: “Send your Name to Mars” and “LADEE Lunar & Antares ISS Rocket Launches from Virginia”; Franklin Institute and Rittenhouse Astronomical Society, Philadelphia, PA, 8 PM.

NASA’s Curiosity Mars Science Laboratory  (MSL) rover blasts off for Mars atop a stunningly beautiful Atlas V  rocket on Nov. 26, 2011 at 10:02 a.m. EST from Cape Canaveral, Florida.   United Launch Alliance (ULA) is now upgrading the Atlas V to launch humans aboard the Boeing CST-100 and Sierra Nevada Dream Chaser space taxis. Credit: Ken Kremer - kenkremer.com
NASA’s Curiosity Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) rover blasts off for Mars atop a stunningly beautiful Atlas V rocket on Nov. 26, 2011 at 10:02 a.m. EST from Cape Canaveral, Florida. United Launch Alliance (ULA) is now upgrading the Atlas V to launch humans aboard the Boeing CST-100 and Sierra Nevada Dream Chaser space taxis. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com
The CST-100 spacecraft awaits liftoff aboard an Atlas V launch vehicle in this artist's concept. Credit: Boeing
The CST-100 spacecraft awaits liftoff aboard an Atlas V launch vehicle in this artist’s concept. Credit: Boeing

Rare Spectacular Triple Planet Conjunction Wows World! – Astrophoto Gallery

Triple planets (Venus/Jupiter/Mercury) conjunction over Mont-Saint-Michel, Normandy, France on May 26. Credit: Thierry Legault –
www.astrophoto.fr
Update: See expanded Conjunction astrophoto gallery below[/caption]

The rare astronomical coincidence of a spectacular triangular triple conjunction of 3 bright planets happening right now is certainly wowing the entire World of Earthlings! That is if our gallery of astrophotos assembled here is any indication.

Right at sunset, our Solar System’s two brightest planets – Venus and Jupiter – as well as the sun’s closest planet Mercury are very closely aligned for about a week in late May 2013 – starting several days ago and continuing throughout this week.

And, for an extra special bonus – did you know that a pair of spacecraft from Earth are orbiting two of those planets?

Have you seen it yet ?

Well you’re are in for a celestial treat. The conjunction is visible to the naked eye – look West to Northwest shortly after sunset. No telescopes or binoculars needed.

Triple conjunction shot on May 26 from a mile high in Payson,Az.  4 second exposure, ISO200, Canon 10D, 80mm f/5 lens. Credit: Chris Schur- http://www.schursastrophotography.com
Triple conjunction shot on May 26 from a mile high in Payson,Az. 4 second exposure, ISO200, Canon 10D, 80mm f/5 lens. Credit: Chris Schur- http://www.schursastrophotography.com

Just check out our Universe Today collection of newly snapped astrophoto’s and videos sent to Nancy and Ken by stargazing enthusiasts from across the globe. See an earlier gallery – here.

Throughout May, the trio of wandering planets have been gradually gathering closer and closer.

On May 26 and 27, Venus, Jupiter and Mercury appear just 3 degrees apart as a spectacular triangularly shaped object in the sunset skies – which
adds a palatial pallet of splendid hues not possible at higher elevations.

And don’t dawdle if you want to see this celestial feast. The best times are 30 to 60 minutes after sunset – because thereafter they’ll disappear below the horizon.

The sky show will continue into late May as the planets alignment changes every day.

On May 28, Venus and Jupiter close in to within just 1 degree.

And on May 30 & 31, Venus, Jupiter and Mercury will form an imaginary line in the sky.

Triple planetary conjunctions are a rather rare occurrence. The last one took place in May 2011. And we won’t see another one until October 2015.

Indeed the wandering trio are also currently the three brightest planets visible. Venus is about magnitude minus 4, Jupiter is about minus 2.

While you’re enjoying the fantastic view, ponder this: The three planets are also joined by two orbiting spacecraft from humanity. NASA’s MESSENGER is orbiting Mercury. ESA’s Venus Express is orbiting Venus. And NASA’s Juno spacecraft is on a long looping trajectory to Jupiter.

Send Ken you conjunction photos to post here.

And don’t forget to “Send Your Name to Mars” aboard NASA’s MAVEN orbiter- details here. Deadline: July 1, 2013

Ken Kremer

…………….
Learn more about Conjunctions, Mars, Curiosity, Opportunity, MAVEN, LADEE and NASA missions at Ken’s upcoming lecture presentations:

June 4: “Send your Name to Mars” and “CIBER Astro Sat, LADEE Lunar & Antares Rocket Launches from Virginia”; Rodeway Inn, Chincoteague, VA, 8:30 PM

June 11: “Send your Name to Mars” and “LADEE Lunar & Antares Rocket Launches from Virginia”; NJ State Museum Planetarium and Amateur Astronomers Association of Princeton (AAAP), Trenton, NJ, 730 PM.

June 12: “Send your Name to Mars” and “LADEE Lunar & Antares Rocket Launches from Virginia”; Franklin Institute and Rittenhouse Astronomical Society, Philadelphia, PA, 8 PM.

May 25 conjunction over Malta. Canon 450D with a 55mm. lens and an exposure of 1/2 second at ISO 200 on a tripod.  Credit: Leonard Ellul-Mercer
May 25 conjunction over Malta. Canon 450D with a 55mm. lens and an exposure of 1/2 second at ISO 200 on a tripod. Credit: Leonard Ellul-Mercer
May 26 triple conjunction from Warwick, NY snapped from Canon Rebel, 100mm – 300mm lens.  Credit: Pietro Carboni
May 26 triple conjunction from Warwick, NY snapped from Canon Rebel, 100mm – 300mm lens. Credit: Pietro Carboni
Triple conjunction from  Hondo, Texas taken with a Nikon D800 @ ISO 400 and a 2 second exposure with a Nikon 300mm Lens at F/4.  Credit: Adrian New
Triple conjunction from Hondo, Texas taken with a Nikon D800 @ ISO 400 and a 2 second exposure with a Nikon 300mm Lens at F/4. Credit: Adrian New
Sunset conjunction with fast moving clouds on May 26 through 10 x 50 binoculars from a seashore town -Marina di Pisa, Tuscany, Italy. Credit: Giuseppe Petricca
Sunset conjunction with fast moving clouds on May 26 through 10 x 50 binoculars from a seashore town -Marina di Pisa, Tuscany, Italy. Credit: Giuseppe Petricca


Caption: Taken on 2013-05-23 from Salem, Missouri. Canon T1i, Nikkor 105mm lens. 297 1/4s at 1s interval. Images assembled by QuickTime Pro. Credit: Joseph Shuster

May 26 sunset conjunction from Princeton, NJ. Credit: Ken Kremer -kenkremer.com
May 26 sunset conjunction from Princeton, NJ. Credit: Ken Kremer -kenkremer.com
Triple Planetary conjunction over Onset MA. Shot with a Nikon d7000 1/200 f 4 iso 100 at 110mm. Credit: Phillip Damiano
Triple Planetary conjunction over Onset MA. Shot with a Nikon d7000 1/200 f 4 iso 100 at 110mm. Credit: Phillip Damiano
Panoramic view over Almada City and Lisbon at the Nautical Twilight, with the Full moon rising above the Eastern horizon (right side of the image), while at the same time but in the opposite direction, the planets Venus, Mercury and Jupiter, are aligned in a triangle formation, setting in the Western horizon (left side of the image).In this panoramic picture is also visible the smooth light transition in the sky, with the end of Nautical Twilight and the beginning of Astronomical Twilight (almost night), at right. Facing to North, is visible the great lighted Monument Christ the King and at the left side of it, part of the 25 April Bridge that connects Almada to Lisbon.  Canon 50D - ISO200; f/4; Exp. 1,6 Sec; 35mm. Panoramic of 10 images with about 200º, taken at 21h42 in 25/05/2013.  Credit: Miguel Claro - www.miguelclaro.com
Panoramic view over Almada City and Lisbon at the Nautical Twilight, with the Full moon rising above the Eastern horizon (right side of the image), while at the same time but in the opposite direction, the planets Venus, Mercury and Jupiter, are aligned in a triangle formation, setting in the Western horizon (left side of the image).In this panoramic picture is also visible the smooth light transition in the sky, with the end of Nautical Twilight and the beginning of Astronomical Twilight (almost night), at right. Facing to North, is visible the great lighted Monument Christ the King and at the left side of it, part of the 25 April Bridge that connects Almada to Lisbon. Canon 50D – ISO200; f/4; Exp. 1,6 Sec; 35mm. Panoramic of 10 images with about 200º, taken at 21h42 in 25/05/2013. Credit: Miguel Claro – www.miguelclaro.com
The triple conjunction of Venus, Mercury and Jupiter as seen over an Arizona desert landscape. Credit and copyright: Robert Sparks.
The triple conjunction of Venus, Mercury and Jupiter as seen over an Arizona desert landscape. Credit and copyright: Robert Sparks.
Jupiter, Venus and Mercury triple conjunction May 26 seen here reflecting off Chatsworth Lake in Chatsworth, NJ. Jupiter (on the left) was 2.4° from Mercury (upper-right in the sky) and 2.0° from Venus (bottom right in the sky), while Venus and Mercury were 1.9° apart. Venus was at 2.6° altitude. Canon EOS 6D, 105 mm focal length, 1.3 seconds, f/6.3, ISO 800. Credit: Joe Stieber - sjastro.org/
Jupiter, Venus and Mercury triple conjunction seen here reflecting off Chatsworth Lake in Chatsworth, NJ. Jupiter (on the left) was 2.4° from Mercury (upper-right in the sky) and 2.0° from Venus (bottom right in the sky), while Venus and Mercury were 1.9° apart. Venus was at 2.6° altitude. Canon EOS 6D, 105 mm focal length, 1.3 seconds, f/6.3, ISO 800. Credit: Joe Stieber – sjastro.org/
Triple conjunction on May 27 with WBZ radio towers south east of Boston.  Hampton Hill, Hull, MA.  Nikon D3x -iso200- 1.3 sec.at f2.8. Credit: Richard W. Green
Triple conjunction on May 27 with WBZ radio towers south east of Boston. Hampton Hill, Hull, MA. Nikon D3x -iso200- 1.3 sec.at f2.8. Credit: Richard W. Green

The Big Dipper Like You’ve Never Seen It Before!

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All right, it may look just like any other picture you’ve ever seen of the Big Dipper. Maybe even a little less impressive, in fact. But, unlike any other picture, this one was taken from 290 million km away by NASA’s Juno spacecraft en route to Jupiter, part of a test of its Junocam instrument!  Now that’s something new concerning a very old lineup of stars!

“I can recall as a kid making an imaginary line from the two stars that make up the right side of the Big Dipper’s bowl and extending it upward to find the North Star,” said Scott Bolton, principal investigator of NASA’s Juno mission. “Now, the Big Dipper is helping me make sure the camera aboard Juno is ready to do its job.”

Diagram of the Juno spacecraft (NASA/JPL)

The image is a section of a larger series of scans acquired by Junocam between 20:23 and 20:56 UTC (3:13 to 3:16 PM EST) on March 14, 2012. Still nowhere near Jupiter, the purpose of the imaging exercise was to make sure that Junocam doesn’t create any electromagnetic interference that could disrupt Juno’s other science instruments.

In addition, it allowed the Junocam team at Malin Space Science Systems in San Diego, CA to test the instrument’s Time-Delay Integration (TDI) mode, which allows image stabilization while the spacecraft is in motion.

Because Juno is rotating at about 1 RPM, TDI is crucial to obtaining focused images. The images that make up the full-size series of scans were taken with an exposure time of 0.5 seconds, and yet the stars (brightened above by the imaging team) are still reasonably sharp… which is exactly what the Junocam team was hoping for.

“An amateur astrophotographer wouldn’t be very impressed by these images, but they show that Junocam is correctly aligned and working just as we expected”, said Mike Caplinger, Junocam systems engineer.

As well as the Big Dipper, Junocam also captured other stars and asterisms, such as Vega, Canopus, Regulus and the “False Cross”. (Portions of the imaging swaths were also washed out by sunlight but this was anticipated by the team.)

These images will be used to further calibrate Junocam for operation in the low-light environment around Jupiter, once Juno arrives in July 2016.

Read more about the Junocam test on the MSSS news page here.

As of May 10, Juno was approximately 251 million miles (404 million kilometers) from Earth. Juno has now traveled 380 million miles (612 million kilometers) since its launch on August 5, 2011 and is currently traveling at a velocity of 38,300 miles (61,600 kilometers) per hour relative to the Sun.

Watch a video of the Juno launch here, taken by yours truly from the press site at Kennedy Space Center!

Beneath the Surface: Seeing Jupiter’s Hidden Storms


Launched on August 5, 2011, NASA’s Juno spacecraft will arrive at Jupiter in 2016 to study its magnetic field and atmosphere. Using its suite of science instruments Juno will peer inside the gas giant’s thick clouds, revealing hidden structures and powerful storms. To help people visualize what it means to see the invisible, JPL’s visual strategist Dan Goods created the exhibit above, titled Beneath the Surface. It’s an installation of lights, sound and fog effects that dramatically recreates what Juno will experience as it orbits Jupiter. By using their cell phone cameras, viewers can see lightning “storms” hidden beneath upper, opaque layers of “atmosphere”… in much the same way Juno will.

Goods explains: “Humans are only able to see a little, tiny sliver of what there is available in light. There’s gamma rays, microwaves, ultraviolet and infrared light also, and infrared is close enough to the visible part of the spectrum that cell phone cameras can pick it up. Cell phones normally produce more grainy photos at night because they don’t try to cut out the infrared light the way higher-end digital cameras do so in this case, the cell phone cameras are an advantage.” (Via the Pasadena Weekly.)

I had a chance to meet Dan Goods during a Tweetup event for the Juno launch at Kennedy Space Center. He’d brought a table that had magnetic elements set beneath a flat black surface, and by passing a handheld magnet over the table you could “detect” the different magnetic fields… in some cases rather strongly, even though they were all obviously invisible. It was an ingenious way that Juno’s abilities could be demonstrated in a “hands-on” manner.

Watch my video of the Juno launch from the KSC press site.

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Beneath the Surface takes that kind of demonstration to an entirely new level.

“I love to work with the world of things that are right in front of you but you just can’t see,” Goods said. “With Juno, there’s all this structure just under the surface of Jupiter, but humans can develop tools that help us understand things we’d never have seen before.”

The exhibit was installed at the Pasadena Museum of California Art until January 8. It will now travel to science museums around the country.

Video: watch how the exhibit was constructed.

Juno’s primary goal is to improve our understanding of Jupiter’s formation and evolution. The spacecraft will spend a year investigating the planet’s origins, interior structure, deep atmosphere and magnetosphere. Juno’s study of Jupiter will help us to understand the history of our own solar system and provide new insight into how planetary systems form and develop in our galaxy and beyond.

Explore the Juno mission more at http://missionjuno.swri.edu/.