NASA’s OSIRIS-REx Captures Lovely Blue Marble during Gravity Assist Swing-by to Asteroid Bennu

A color composite image of Earth taken on Sept. 22, 2017 by the MapCam camera on NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft just hours after the spacecraft completed its Earth Gravity Assist at a range of approximately 106,000 miles (170,000 kilometers). Credit: NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FL – NASA’s OSIRIS-REx asteroid mission captured a lovely ‘Blue Marble’ image of our Home Planet during last Fridays (Sept. 22) successful gravity assist swing-by sending the probe hurtling towards asteroid Bennu for a rendezvous next August on a round trip journey to snatch pristine soil samples.

The newly released color composite image of Earth was taken on Sept. 22 by the spacecrafts MapCam camera.

It was taken at a range of approximately 106,000 miles (170,000 kilometers), just a few hours after OSIRIS-REx completed its critical Earth Gravity Assist (EGA) maneuver.

“NASA’s asteroid sample return spacecraft successfully used Earth’s gravity on Friday, Sept. 22 to slingshot itself on a path toward the asteroid Bennu, for a rendezvous next August,” the agency confirmed after receiving the eagerly awaited telemetry.

OSIRIS-Rex, which stands for Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, and Security – Regolith Explorer, is NASA’s first ever asteroid sample return mission.

As it swung by Earth at 12:52 p.m. EDT on Sept. 22, OSIRIS-REx passed only 10,711 miles (17,237 km) above Antarctica, just south of Cape Horn, Chile.

The probe departed Earth by following a flight path that continued north over the Pacific Ocean and has already travelled 600 million miles (1 billion kilometers) since launching on Sept. 8, 2016.

OSIRIS-REx flight path over Earth’s surface during the Sept. 22, 2017 slingshot over Antarctica at 12:52 a.m. EDT targeting the probe to Asteroid Bennu in August 2018. Credits: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center/University of Arizona

The preplanned EGA maneuver provided the absolutely essential gravity assisted speed boost required for OSIRIS-Rex to gain enough velocity to complete its journey to the carbon rich asteroid Bennu and back.

The mission was only made possible by the slingshot which provided a velocity change to the spacecraft of 8,451 miles per hour (3.778 kilometers per second).

“The encounter with Earth is fundamental to our rendezvous with Bennu,” said Rich Burns, OSIRIS-REx project manager at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, in a statement.

“The total velocity change from Earth’s gravity far exceeds the total fuel load of the OSIRIS-REx propulsion system, so we are really leveraging our Earth flyby to make a massive change to the OSIRIS-REx trajectory, specifically changing the tilt of the orbit to match Bennu.”

The spacecraft conducted a post flyby science campaign by collecting images and science observations of Earth and the Moon that began four hours after closest approach in order to test and calibrate its onboard suite of five science instruments and help prepare them for OSIRIS-REx’s arrival at Bennu in late 2018.

NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft OTES spectrometer captured these infrared spectral curves during Earth Gravity Assist on Sept. 22 2017, hours after the spacecraft’s closest approach. Credit: NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona/Arizona State University

The MapCam camera Blue Marble image is the first one to be released by NASA and the science team.

The image is centered on the Pacific Ocean and shows several familiar landmasses, including Australia in the lower left, and Baja California and the southwestern United States in the upper right.

“The dark vertical streaks at the top of the image are caused by short exposure times (less than three milliseconds),” said the team.

“Short exposure times are required for imaging an object as bright as Earth, but are not anticipated for an object as dark as the asteroid Bennu, which the camera was designed to image.”

The instrument will gather additional data and measurements scanning the Earth and the Moon for three more days over the next two weeks.

“The opportunity to collect science data over the next two weeks provides the OSIRIS-REx mission team with an excellent opportunity to practice for operations at Bennu,” said Dante Lauretta, OSIRIS-REx principal investigator at the University of Arizona, Tucson.

“During the Earth flyby, the science and operations teams are co-located, performing daily activities together as they will during the asteroid encounter.”

A United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket lifts off from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station carrying NASA’s Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security-Regolith Explorer, or OSIRIS-REx spacecraft on the first U.S. mission to sample an asteroid, retrieve at least two ounces of surface material and return it to Earth for study. Liftoff was at 7:05 p.m. EDT on September 8, 2016. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

The OSIRIS-Rex spacecraft originally departed Earth atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket under crystal clear skies on September 8, 2016 at 7:05 p.m. EDT from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida.

Everything with the launch and flyby went exactly according to plan for the daring mission boldly seeking to gather rocks and soil from carbon rich Bennu.

OSIRIS-Rex is equipped with an ingenious robotic arm named TAGSAM designed to collect at least a 60-gram (2.1-ounce) sample and bring it back to Earth in 2023 for study by scientists using the world’s most advanced research instruments.

View of science instrument suite and TAGSAM robotic sample return arm on NASA’s OSIRIS-REx asteroid sampling spacecraft inside the Payloads Hazardous Servicing Facility at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. Probe is slated for Sep. 8, 2016 launch to asteroid Bennu from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

Watch for Ken’s continuing onsite NASA mission and launch reports direct from the Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida.

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and Planetary science and human spaceflight news.
Ken Kremer

NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft OVIRS spectrometer captured this visible and infrared spectral curve, which shows the amount of sunlight reflected from the Earth, after the spacecraft’s Earth Gravity Assist on Sept. 22, 2017. Credit: NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona

NASA’s OSIRIS-REx Asteroid Sampler Slingshots Around Earth Friday, Sept. 22 – Catch It If You Can!

Artist’s concept shows the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft passing by Earth on Sept. 22, 2017. Credits: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center/University of Arizona

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FL – Barely a year after NASA’s OSIRIS-REx robotic asteroid sampler launched on a trailblazing mission to snatch a soil sample from a pristine asteroid and return it to Earth for research analysis, the probe is speeding back home for a swift slingshot around our home planet on Friday Sept. 22 to gain a gravity assist speed boost required to complete its journey to the carbon rich asteroid Bennu and back.

As it swings by Earth NASA’s first ever asteroid sample return mission, OSIRIS-REx (Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, and Security – Regolith Explorer), will pass only 11,000 miles (17,000 kilometers) above Earth just before 12:52 p.m. EDT on Friday.

And NASA is asking the public to try and ‘Catch It If You Can’ – by waving hello and/or taking snapshots during and after the probes high speed flyby.

Plus you can watch NASA Facebook Live event at Noon Friday: https://www.facebook.com/NASAGoddard/

OSIRIS-REx will be approaching Earth at a velocity of about 19,000 mph on Friday as it begins flying over Australia during the Earth Gravity Assist (EGA) maneuver.

Since blastoff from the Florida Space Coast on Sept. 8, 2016 the probe has already racked up almost 600 million miles on its round trip journey from Earth and back to set up Friday’s critical gravity assist maneuver to Bennu and back.

As OSIRIS-REx continues along its flight path the spacecraft will reach its closest point to Earth over Antarctica, just south of Cape Horn, Chile. It will gain a velocity boost of about 8400 mph.

The spacecraft will also conduct a post flyby science campaign by collecting images and science observations of Earth and the Moon four hours after closest approach to calibrate its five science instruments.

NASA’s OSIRIS-REx asteroid sampling spacecraft, return capsule and payload fairings inside the Payloads Hazardous Servicing Facility high bay at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center is being processed for Sep. 8, 2016 launch to asteroid Bennu from Cape Canaveral, FL. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

The allure of Bennu is that it is a carbon rich asteroid – thus OSIRIS-REx could potentially bring back samples infused with the organic chemicals like amino acids that are the building blocks of life as we know it.

“We are interested in that material because it is a time capsule from the earliest stages of solar system formation,” OSIRIS-Rex Principal Investigator Dante Lauretta told Universe Today in a prelaunch interview with the spacecraft in the cleanroom at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center.

The do or die gravity assist plunge is absolutely essential to set OSIRIS-REx on course to match the asteroid’s path and speed when it reaches the vicinity of asteroid Bennu a year from now in October 2018.

“The Earth Gravity Assist is a clever way to move the spacecraft onto Bennu’s orbital plane using Earth’s own gravity instead of expending fuel,” says Lauretta, of the University of Arizona, Tucson.

Just how close to Earth will OSIRIS-REx be during its flyby on Friday? The spacecraft will come within 11,000 miles (17,000 km) of the Earth’s surface as it passes over Antarctica at 12:52 a.m. EDT. on Sept. 22, 2017. Credits: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center/University of Arizona

Bennu’s orbit around the Sun is tilted at a six-degree inclination with respect to Earth’s orbital plane.

The asteroid is 1,614-foot (500 m) in diameter and crosses Earth’s orbit around the sun every six years.

Numerous NASA spacecraft – including NASA’s just completed Cassini mission to Saturn – utilize gravity assists around a variety of celestial bodies to gain speed and change course to save vast amounts of propellant and time in order to accomplish science missions and visit additional target objects that would otherwise be impossible.

The flyby will be a nail-biting time for NASA and the science team because right afterwards the refrigerator sized probe will be out of contact with engineers – unable to receive telemetry for about an hour.

“For about an hour, NASA will be out of contact with the spacecraft as it passes over Antarctica,” said Mike Moreau, the flight dynamics system lead at Goddard, in a statement.

“OSIRIS-REx uses the Deep Space Network to communicate with Earth, and the spacecraft will be too low relative to the southern horizon to be in view with either the Deep Space tracking station at Canberra, Australia, or Goldstone, California.”

NASA says the team will regain communication with OSIRIS-REx roughly 50 minutes after closest approach over Antarctica at about 1:40 p.m. EDT.

The post flyby science campaign is set to begin at 4:52 p.m. EDT, Friday, Sept. 22.

United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket lifts off from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station carrying NASA’s Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security-Regolith Explorer, or OSIRIS-REx spacecraft on the first U.S. mission to sample an asteroid, retrieve at least two ounces of surface material and return it to Earth for study. Liftoff was at 7:05 p.m. EDT on September 8, 2016 in this remote camera view taken from inside the launch pad perimeter. Note the newly install crew access arm and white room for astronaut flights atop Atlas starting in early 2018. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

The OSIRIS-Rex spacecraft originally departed Earth atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket under crystal clear skies on September 8, 2016 at 7:05 p.m. EDT from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida.

Everything with the launch went exactly according to plan for the daring mission boldly seeking to gather rocks and soil from carbon rich Bennu.

View of science instrument suite and TAGSAM robotic sample return arm on NASA’s OSIRIS-REx asteroid sampling spacecraft inside the Payloads Hazardous Servicing Facility at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. Probe is slated for Sep. 8, 2016 launch to asteroid Bennu from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

OSIRIS-Rex is equipped with an ingenious robotic arm named TAGSAM designed to collect at least a 60-gram (2.1-ounce) sample and bring it back to Earth in 2023 for study by scientists using the world’s most advanced research instruments.

“The primary objective of the OSIRIS-Rex mission is to bring back pristine material from the surface of the carbonaceous asteroid Bennu,” OSIRIS-Rex Principal Investigator Dante Lauretta told me in the prelaunch interview in the KSC cleanroom with the spacecraft as the probe was undergoing final launch preparations.

“We are interested in that material because it is a time capsule from the earliest stages of solar system formation.”

“It records the very first material that formed from the earliest stages of solar system formation. And we are really interested in the evolution of carbon during that phase. Particularly the key prebiotic molecules like amino acids, nucleic acids, phosphates and sugars that build up. These are basically the biomolecules for all of life.”

1 day to Earth flyby for OSIRIS-Rex

NASA and the mission team is also inviting the public to get engaged by participating in the Wave to OSIRIS-REx social media campaign.

“Individuals and groups from anywhere in the world are encouraged to take photos of themselves waving to OSIRIS-REx, share them using the hashtag #HelloOSIRISREx and tag the mission account in their posts on Twitter (@OSIRISREx) or Instagram (@OSIRIS_REx).

Participants may begin taking and sharing photos at any time—or wait until the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft makes its closest approach to Earth at 12:52p.m. EDT on Friday, Sept. 22.”

The probe’s flight path during the flyby will pass through the ring of numerous satellites orbiting in geosynchronous orbit, but none are expected to be within close range.

Members of the OSIRIS-REx mission team celebrate the successful spacecraft launch on Sept. 8, 2016 atop ULA Atlas V at the post-launch briefing at the Kennedy Space Center, FL. Principal Investigator Dante Lauretta is 4th from right, NASA Planetary Science Director Jim Green is center, 5th from left. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

Watch for Ken’s continuing onsite NASA mission and launch reports direct from the Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida.

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and Planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

Dr Dante Lauretta, principal investigator for OSIRIS-REx at the University of Arizona, Tucson, and Dr. Ken Kremer, Universe Today point to NASA’s OSIRIS-REx asteroid sampling spacecraft inside the Payloads Hazardous Servicing Facility at the Kennedy Space Center on Aug. 20, 2016. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

Rosetta Arrives at ‘Scientific Disneyland’ for Ambitious Study of Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko after 10 Year Voyage

The image of Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko was taken by Rosetta’s OSIRIS narrow-angle camera on 3 August 2014 from a distance of 285 km. Credits: ESA/Rosetta/MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA
Story updated[/caption]

“We’re at the comet! Yes,” exclaimed Rosetta Spacecraft Operations Manager Sylvain Lodiot, confirming the spacecraft’s historic arrival at Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko during a live webcast this morning, Aug. 6, from mission control at ESA’s spacecraft operations centre (ESOC) in Darmstadt, Germany.

The European Space Agency’s (ESA) Rosetta comet hunter successfully reached its long sought destination after a flawless orbital thruster firing at 11 AM CEST to become the first spacecraft in history to rendezvous with a comet and enter orbit aimed at an ambitious long term quest to produce ground breaking science.

“Ten years we’ve been in the car waiting to get to scientific Disneyland and we haven’t even gotten out of the car yet and look at what’s outside the window,” Mark McCaughrean, senior scientific adviser to ESA’s Science Directorate, said during today’s webcast. “It’s just astonishing.”

“The really big question is where did we and the solar system we live in come from? How did water and the complex organic molecules that build up life get to this planet? Water and life. These are the questions that motivate everybody.”

“Rosetta is indeed the ‘rosetta stone’ that will unlock this treasure chest to all comets.”

Today’s rendezvous climaxed Rosetta’s decade long and 6.4 billion kilometers (4 Billion miles) hot pursuit through interplanetary space for a cosmic kiss with Comet 67P while speeding towards the inner Solar System at nearly 55,000 kilometers per hour.

The probe is sending back spectacular up close high resolution imagery of the mysterious binary, two lobed comet, merged at a bright band at the narrow neck of the celestial wanderer that looks like a ‘rubber ducky.’

“This is the best comet nucleus ever resolved in space with the sharpest ever views of the nucleus, with 5.5.meter pixel resolution,” said Holger Sierks, principal investigator for Rosetta’s OSIRIS camera from the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research in Gottingen, Germany, during the webcast.

Back side view of Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko was taken by Rosetta’s OSIRIS narrow-angle camera on 3 August 2014 from a distance of 285 km.   The image resolution is 5.3 metres/pixel. Credits: ESA/Rosetta/MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA
Back side view of Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko was taken by Rosetta’s OSIRIS narrow-angle camera on 3 August 2014 from a distance of 285 km. The image resolution is 5.3 metres/pixel. Credits: ESA/Rosetta/MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA

“We now see lots of structure and details. Lots of topography is visible on the surface. We see the nucleus and outgassing activity. The outbursts are seen with overexposed images. It’s really fantastic”

“There is a big depression on the head and 150 meter high cliffs, rubble piles, and also we see smooth areas and plains. The neck is about 1000 meters deep and is a cool area. There is outgassing visible from the neck.”

“We see a village of house size boulders. Some about 10 meters in size and bigger they vary in brightness. And some with sharp edges. We don’t know their composition yet.”

“We don’t understand how its created yet. That’s what we’ll find out in coming months as we get closer.”

“Rosetta has arrived and will get even closer. We’ll get ten times the resolution compared to now.”

“The comet is a story about us. It will be the key in cometary science. Where did it form? What does it tell us about the water on Earth and the early solar system and where it come from?”

Following the blastoff on 2 March 2004 tucked inside the payload fairing of an Ariane 5 G+ rocket from Europe’s spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana, Rosetta traveled on a complex trajectory.

It conducted four gravity assist speed boosting slingshot maneuvers, three at Earth and one at Mars, to gain sufficient velocity to reach the comet, Lodiot explained.

The 1.3 Billion euro robotic emissary from Earth is now orbiting about 100 kilometers (62 miles) above the comet’s surface, some 405 million kilometers (250 million mi.) from Earth, about half way between the orbits of Jupiter and Mars.

The main event today, Aug. 6, was to complete an absolutely critical thruster firing which was the last of 10 orbit correction maneuvers (OCM’s). It started precisely on time at 11:00 AM CEST/09:00 GMT/5:00 AM EST, said Lodiot. The signal was one of the cleanest of the entire mission.

The orbital insertion engine firing dubbed the Close Approach Trajectory – Insertion (CATI) burn was scheduled to last about 6 minutes 26 seconds. Confirmation of a successful burn came some 28 minutes later.

“We’re at the comet! Yes,” Lodiot excitedly announced live whereupon the crowd of team members, dignitaries and journalists at ESOC erupted in cheers.

For the next 17 months, the probe will escort comet 67P as it loops around the Sun towards perihelion in August 2015 and then continue along on the outbound voyage towards Jupiter.

ESA’s incredibly bold mission will also deploy the three-legged piggybacked Philae lander to touch down and drill into and sample its incredibly varied surface a little over three months from now.

Together, Rosetta and Philae are equipped with a suite of 21 science instruments to conduct an unprecedented investigation to characterize the 4 km wide (2.5 mi.) comet and study how the pristine frozen body composed of ice and rock is transformed by the warmth of the Sun.

Comets are believed to have delivered a vast quantity of water to Earth. They may have also seeded Earth with organic molecules.

Close-up detail of comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. The image was taken by Rosetta’s OSIRIS narrow-angle camera and downloaded today, 6 August. The image shows the comet’s ‘head’ at the left of the frame, which is casting shadow onto the ‘neck’ and ‘body’ to the right.  The image was taken from a distance of 120 km and the image resolution is 2.2 metres per pixel. Credit: ESA/Rosetta/MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA
Close-up detail of comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. The image was taken by Rosetta’s OSIRIS narrow-angle camera and downloaded today, 6 August. The image shows the comet’s ‘head’ at the left of the frame, which is casting shadow onto the ‘neck’ and ‘body’ to the right.
The image was taken from a distance of 120 km and the image resolution is 2.2 metres per pixel. Credit: ESA/Rosetta/MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA

Rosetta and Philae will also search for organic molecules, nucleic acids and amino acids, the building blocks for life as we know it by sampling and analyzing the comets nucleus and coma cloud of gas and dust.

“The first coma sampling could happen as early as next week,” said Matt Taylor, ESA’s Rosetta project scientist on the webcast.

“Is this double-lobed structure built from two separate comets that came together in the Solar System’s history, or is it one comet that has eroded dramatically and asymmetrically over time? Rosetta, by design, is in the best place to study one of these unique objects.”

After thoroughly mapping the comet, the team will command Rosetta to move even lower to 50 km altitude and then even lower to 30 km and less.

The scientists and engineers will search for up to five possible landing sites for Philae to prepare for the touchdown in mid-November 2014.

“We want to characterize the nucleus so we can land in November,” said Taylor. “We will have a ringside along with the comet as it moves inwards to the sun and then further out.”

Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko activity on 2 August 2014. The IMAGE was taken by Rosetta’s OSIRIS wide-angle camera from a distance of 550 km. The exposure time of the image was 330 seconds and the comet nucleus is saturated to bring out the detail of the comet activity. Note there is a ghost image to the right. The image resolution is 55 metres per pixel. Credits: ESA/Rosetta/MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA
Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko activity on 2 August 2014. The IMAGE was taken by Rosetta’s OSIRIS wide-angle camera from a distance of 550 km. The exposure time of the image was 330 seconds and the comet nucleus is saturated to bring out the detail of the comet activity. Note there is a ghost image to the right. The image resolution is 55 metres per pixel. Credits: ESA/Rosetta/MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA

Studying comets will shed light on the history of water and life on Earth.

“We are going to places we have never been to before,” said Jean-Jacques Dordain, ESA’s Director General during the webcast.

“We want to get answers to questions to the origin to water and complex molecules on Earth. This opens up even more new questions than answers.”

ESA’s Rosetta spacecraft on final approach to Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko in early August 2014. This collage of navcam imagery from Rosetta was taken on Aug. 1, 2, 3 and 4 from distances of 1026 km, 500 km, 300 km and 234 km. Not to scale.  Credit: ESA/Rosetta/NAVCAM - Collage/Processing: Marco Di Lorenzo/Ken Kremer- kenkremer.com
ESA’s Rosetta spacecraft on final approach to Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko in early August 2014. This collage of navcam imagery from Rosetta was taken on Aug. 1, 2, 3 and 4 from distances of 1026 km, 500 km, 300 km and 234 km. Not to scale. Credit: ESA/Rosetta/NAVCAM – Collage/Processing: Marco Di Lorenzo/Ken Kremer- kenkremer.com

Watch for updates.

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Rosetta, Curiosity, Opportunity, Orion, SpaceX, Boeing, Orbital Sciences, commercial space, MAVEN, MOM, Mars and more Earth and Planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

……..

Read my Rosetta series here:

Rosetta on Final Approach to Historic Comet Rendezvous – Watch Live Here

Rosetta Probe Swoops Closer to Comet Destination than ISS is to Earth and Reveals Exquisite Views

Rosetta Orbiter less than 500 Kilometers from Comet 67P Following Penultimate Trajectory Burn


Rosetta Closing in on Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko after Decade Long Chase

ESA’s Rosetta Spacecraft nears final approach to Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko in late July 2014. This collage of imagery from Rosetta combines Navcam camera images at right taken nearing final approach from July 25 (3000 km distant) to July 31, 2014 (1327 km distant), with OSIRIS wide angle camera image at left of comet’s expanding coma cloud on July 25. Images to scale and contrast enhanced to show further detail. Credit: ESA/Rosetta/NAVCAM/OSIRIS/MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA   Collage/Processing: Marco Di Lorenzo/Ken Kremer
ESA’s Rosetta Spacecraft nears final approach to Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko in late July 2014. This collage of imagery from Rosetta combines Navcam camera images at right taken nearing final approach from July 25 (3000 km distant) to July 31, 2014 (1327 km distant), with OSIRIS wide angle camera image at left of comet’s expanding coma cloud on July 25. Images to scale and contrast enhanced to show further detail. Credit: ESA/Rosetta/NAVCAM/OSIRIS/MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA Collage/Processing: Marco Di Lorenzo/Ken Kremer

How Do Gravitational Slingshots Work?

Have you ever heard that spacecraft can speed themselves up by performing gravitational slingshot maneuvers? What’s involved to get yourself going faster across the Solar System.

Let’s say you want to go back in time and prevent Kirk from dying on the Enterprise B.

You could use a slingshot maneuver. You’d want to be careful that you don’t accidentally create an alternate reality future where the Earth has been assimilated by the Borg, because Kirk wasn’t in the Nexus to meet up with Professor Picard and Sir Iandalf Magnetopants, while they having the best time ever gallivanting around New York City.

*sigh* Ah, man. I really love those guys. What was I saying? Oh right. One of the best ways to increase the speed of a spacecraft is with a gravitational slingshot, also known as a gravity assist.

There are times that fantasy has bled out too far into the hive mind, and people confuse a made up thing with an actual thing because of quirky similarities, nomenclature and possibly just a lack of understanding.

So, before we go any further a “gravitational slingshot” is a gravity assist that will speed up an actual spacecraft, “slingshot maneuver” is made up bananas nonsense. For example, when Voyager was sent out into the Solar System, it used gravitational slingshots past Jupiter and Saturn to increase its velocity enough to escape the Sun’s gravity.

So how do gravitational assists work? You probably know this involves flying your spacecraft dangerously close to a massive planet. But how does this help speed you up? Sure, as the spacecraft flies towards the planet, it speeds up. But then, as it flies away, it slows down again. Sort of like a skateboarder in a half pipe.

This process nets out to zero, with no overall increase in velocity as your spacecraft falls into and out of the gravity well. So how do they do it? Here’s the trick. Each planet has an orbital speed travelling around the Sun.

As the spacecraft approaches the planet, its gravity pulls the much lighter spacecraft so that it catches up with the planet in orbit. It’s the orbital momentum from the planet which gives the spacecraft a tremendous speed boost. The closer it can fly, the more momentum it receives, and the faster it flies away from the encounter.

To kick the velocity even higher, the spacecraft can fire its rockets during the closest approach, and the high speed encounter will multiply the effect of the rockets. This speed boost comes with a cost. It’s still a transfer of momentum. The planet loses a tiny bit of orbital velocity.

If you did enough gravitational slingshots, such as several zillion zillion slingshots, you’d eventually cause the planet to crash into the Sun. You can use gravitational slingshots to decelerate by doing the whole thing backwards. You approach the planet in the opposite direction that it’s orbiting the Sun. The transfer of momentum will slow down the spacecraft a significant amount, and speed up the planet an infinitesimal amount.

Messenger's complicated flyby trajectory. Credit: NASA
Messenger’s complicated flyby trajectory. Credit: NASA

NASA’s MESSENGER spacecraft made 2 Earth flybys, 2 Venus flybys and 3 Mercury flybys before it was going slowly enough to make an orbital insertion around Mercury. Ulysses, the solar probe launched in 1990, used gravity assists to totally change its trajectory into a polar orbit above and below the Sun. And Cassini used flybys of Venus, Earth and Jupiter to reach Saturn with an efficient flight path.

Nature sure is trying to make it easy for us. Gravitational slingshots are an elegant way to slow down spacecraft, tweak their orbits into directions you could never reach any other way, or accelerate to incredible speeds.

It’s a brilliant dance using orbital mechanics to aid in our exploration of the cosmos. It’s a shining example of the genius and the ingenuity of the minds who are helping to push humanity further out into the stars.

What do you think? What other places is the general comprehension between actual facts and fictional knowledge blurring, just like the “slingshot maneuver” and “gravitational slingshot”?

And if you like what you see, come check out our Patreon page and find out how you can get these videos early while helping us bring you more great content!

How Can We Move the Earth?

Sooner or later we’re going to want to move the Earth further away from the Sun. It turns out, there are a few techniques that might actually make this possible. Not easy, but possible.

You live here. I live here. Everybody lives here. For now.

In 500 million years the gradual heating of the Sun will burn away all life on Earth. Then we might have to move. Even if we get past the 500 million year deadline, the Sun will die as a red giant in about 5 billion years.

Let’s review our options? We could die… orrrr we could move the Earth. Just like any other mad science scheme, there’s a hundred ways to skin this cat. We could launch powerful rockets off the Earth, which would push the Earth a little bit in the opposite direction.

We could build a giant teleporter and disassemble the Earth atom by atom into a new location. We could repeatedly smash things into the Earth. Eventually knocking it off orbit, possibly also changing its axis and or rotation.

We could paint half the Earth silver, stop it rotating and let the Sun push it away. We could dig a giant hole down to the core and repeatedly detonate warheads inside the Earth forcing molten material to fly off into space, propelling us forwards like a deflating balloon.

Sure, maybe that does all sound a little crazy. We could build a gravity tug, and slowly pull the Earth away from the Sun. What’s a gravity tug? I’m so glad you asked.

You could build a solar sail with a huge mass connected to it. This gigantic weight would want to fall towards the Earth, and the Earth slowly drifts towards the weight. The solar sail is being pushed away by the Sun dragging both the weight and as a result the Earth along with it. This would take a very, very, very long time.

The Solar Sail demonstration mission.  Credit: NASA
The Solar Sail demonstration mission. Credit: NASA

Here’s the best idea scientists have come up with so far. Gravity assists: Attach rockets to an asteroid, comet or Kuiper belt object and have it fall on a trajectory that takes it close to the Earth. Earth and this space rock would exchange a little momentum.

The rock slows down a bit and goes into a new orbit, and the Earth speeds up a little. That additional momentum pushes our orbit up a tiny little bit, and now we’re further away from the Sun. You’d need to do this tens of thousands or even a million times.

You might think, “Hey, that’s crazy. Where would you get all this stuff to hurl past the Earth?”. Don’t worry, the Oort cloud alone has billions of objects with a total of 30 times the mass of the Earth.

To prepare for Roastpocalypse, If we started now, we should cause a close pass with a large object every few thousand years. We bring them within 10,000 km of the surface of the Earth, which would have the likely side effect of causing severe tides and storms.

The layout of the solar system, including the Oort Cloud, on a logarithmic scale. Credit: NASA
The layout of the solar system, including the Oort Cloud, on a logarithmic scale. Credit: NASA

Oh, and get the math wrong and you’ll smash an asteroid into the Earth. Just so you know, these would be way bigger than the object that killed the dinosaurs. One hit from a 100km diameter object would sterilize the biosphere.

If we pushed the Earth out to about 1.5 times its current orbit, which might get a little too cozy with Mars for comfort, we’d give the Earth another 5 billion years of habitability,

Then the Sun turns into a red giant, and then dies as a white dwarf. And nothing can help us then… except perhaps some kind of planet sized star gate.

What do you think? What’s the best suggestion you’ve got to move the Earth out to a safe distance? Tell us in the comments below.

Mariner 10: Best Venus Image and 1st Ever Planetary Gravity Assist – 40 Years Ago Today

Exactly 40 Years ago today on Feb. 5, 1974, Mariner 10, accomplished a history making and groundbreaking feat when the NASA science probe became the first spacecraft ever to test out and execute the technique known as a planetary gravity assisted flyby used to alter its speed and trajectory – in order to reach another celestial body.

Mariner 10 flew by Venus 40 years ago to enable the probe to gain enough speed and alter its flight path to eventually become humanity’s first spacecraft to reach the planet Mercury, closest to our Sun.

Indeed it was the first spacecraft to visit two planets.

During the flyby precisely four decades ago, Mariner 10 snapped its 1st close up view of Venus – see above.

From that moment forward, gravity assisted slingshot maneuvers became an extremely important technique used numerous times by NASA to carry out planetary exploration missions that would not otherwise have been possible.

For example, NASA’s twin Voyager 1 and 2 probes launched barely three years later in 1977 used the gravity speed boost to conduct their own historic flyby expeditions to our Solar Systems outer planets.

Mariner 10's Mercury.  This is a photomosaic of images collected by Mariner 10 as it flew past Mercury on 29 March 1974.  It shows the southern hemisphere.  The spacecraft took more than 7,000 images of Mercury, Venus, the Earth, and the moon during its mission.  Credit: NASA
Mariner 10’s Mercury.
This is a photomosaic of images collected by Mariner 10 as it flew past Mercury on 29 March 1974. It shows the southern hemisphere. The spacecraft took more than 7,000 images of Mercury, Venus, the Earth, and the moon during its mission. Credit: NASA

Without the flyby’s, the rocket launchers thrust by themselves did not provide sufficient interplanetary speed to reach their follow on targets.

NASA’s Juno Jupiter orbiter just flew back around Earth this past October 9, 2013 to gain the speed it requires to reach the Jovian system.

The Mariner 10 probe used an ultraviolet filter in its imaging system to bring out details in the Venusian clouds which are otherwise featureless to the human eye – as you’ll notice when viewing it through a telescope.

Venus surface is completely obscured by a thick layer of carbon dioxide clouds.

The hellish planet’s surface temperature is 460 degrees Celsius or 900 degrees Fahrenheit.

Diagram of Mariner 10 which flew by Venus and Mercury in 1974 and 1975. This photo identifies various parts of the spacecraft and the science instruments, which were used to study the atmospheric, surface, and physical characteristics of Venus and Mercury. This was the sixth in the series of Mariner spacecraft that explored the inner planets beginning in 1962. Credit: Jet Propulsion Laboratory
Diagram of Mariner 10 which flew by Venus and Mercury in 1974 and 1975. This photo identifies various parts of the spacecraft and the science instruments, which were used to study the atmospheric, surface, and physical characteristics of Venus and Mercury. This was the sixth in the series of Mariner spacecraft that explored the inner planets beginning in 1962. Credit: Jet Propulsion Laboratory

Following the completely successful Venus flyby, Mariner 10 eventually went on to conduct a trio of flyby’s of Mercury in 1974 and 1975.

It imaged nearly half of the planets moon-like surface, found surprising evidence of a magnetic field, discovered that a metallic core comprised nearly 80 percent of the planet’s mass, and measured temperatures ranging from 187°C on the dayside to minus 183°C on the nightside.

Mercury was not visited again for over three decades until NASA’s MESSENGER flew by and eventually orbited the planet – and where it remains active today.

Mariner 10 was launched on Nov. 3, 1973 from the Kennedy Space Center atop an Atlas-Centaur rocket.

Mosaic of the Earth from Mariner 10 after launch. Credit: NASA
Mosaic of the Earth from Mariner 10 after launch. Credit: NASA
Shortly after blastoff if also took photos of the Earth and the Moon.

Ultimately it was the last of NASA’s venerable Mariner planetary missions hailing from the dawn of the Space Age.

Mariner 11 and 12 were descoped due to congressional budget cuts and eventually renamed as Voyager 1 and 2.

The Mariner 10 science team was led by Bruce Murray of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), Pasadena, Calif.

Murray eventually became the Director of JPL. After he passed away in 2013, key science features on Martian mountain climbing destinations were named in his honor by the Opportunity and Curiosity Mars rover science teams.

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing LADEE, Chang’e-3, Orion, Orbital Sciences, SpaceX, commercial space, Mars rover and more planetary and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

Mariner 10 trajectory and timeline to Venus and Mercury. Credit: NASA
Mariner 10 trajectory and timeline to Venus and Mercury. Credit: NASA
Diagram of the Mariner series of spacecraft and launch vehicle. Mariner spacecraft explored Mercury, Venus and Mars. Credit: Jet Propulsion Laboratory
Diagram of the Mariner series of spacecraft and launch vehicle. Mariner spacecraft explored Mercury, Venus and Mars. Credit: Jet Propulsion Laboratory
This false color composite shows more than half of Earth’s disk over the coast of Argentina and the South Atlantic Ocean as the Juno probe slingshotted by on Oct. 9, 2013 for a gravity assisted acceleration to Jupiter. The mosaic was assembled from raw images taken by the Junocam imager. Credit: NASA/JPL/SwRI/MSSS/Ken Kremer/Marco Di Lorenzo
Mosaic of Earth from Juno gravity assist Flyby in 2013 –
compare to Mariner 10 Earth mosaic above from 1973 to see advances in space technology
This false color composite shows more than half of Earth’s disk over the coast of Argentina and the South Atlantic Ocean as the Juno probe slingshotted by on Oct. 9, 2013 for a gravity assisted acceleration to Jupiter. The mosaic was assembled from raw images taken by the Junocam imager. Credit: NASA/JPL/SwRI/MSSS/Ken Kremer/Marco Di Lorenzo

Jupiter Bound Juno snaps Dazzling Gallery of Planet Earth Portraits

Juno Portrait of Earth
This false color composite shows more than half of Earth’s disk over the coast of Argentina and the South Atlantic Ocean as the Juno probe slingshotted by on Oct. 9, 2013 for a gravity assisted acceleration to Jupiter. The mosaic was assembled from raw images taken by the Junocam imager. Credit: NASA/JPL/SwRI/MSSS/Ken Kremer/Marco Di Lorenzo
See below a gallery of Earth from Juno[/caption]

During a crucial speed boosting slingshot maneuver around Earth on Oct. 9, NASA’s Jupiter-bound Juno probe snapped a dazzling gallery of portraits of our Home Planet over the South American coastline and the Atlantic Ocean. See our mosaics of land, sea and swirling clouds above and below, including several shown in false color.

But an unexpected glitch during the do or die swing-by sent the spacecraft into ‘safe mode’ and delayed the transmission of most of the raw imagery and other science observations while mission controllers worked hastily to analyze the problem and successfully restore Juno to full operation on Oct. 12 – but only temporarily!

Because less than 48 hours later, Juno tripped back into safe mode for a second time. Five days later engineers finally recouped Juno and it’s been smooth sailing ever since, the top scientist told Universe Today.

“Juno is now fully operational and on its way to Jupiter,” Juno principal investigator Scott Bolton told me today. Bolton is from the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI), San Antonio, Texas.

“We are completely out of safe mode!”

NASA's Juno probe captured the image data for this composite picture during its Earth flyby on Oct. 9 over Argentina,  South America and the southern Atlantic Ocean. Raw imagery was reconstructed and aligned by Ken Kremer and Marco Di Lorenzo, and false-color blue has been added to the view taken by a near-infrared filter that is typically used to detect methane. Credit: NASA/JPL/SwRI/MSSS/Ken Kremer/Marco Di Lorenzo
NASA’s Juno probe captured the image data for this composite picture during its Earth flyby on Oct. 9 over Argentina, South America and the southern Atlantic Ocean. Raw imagery was reconstructed and aligned by Ken Kremer and Marco Di Lorenzo, and false-color blue has been added to the view taken by a near-infrared filter that is typically used to detect methane. Credit: NASA/JPL/SwRI/MSSS/Ken Kremer/Marco Di Lorenzo

With the $1.1 Billion Juno probe completely healthy once again and the nail-biting drama past at last, engineers found the time to send the stored photos and research data back to ground station receivers.

“The science team is busy analyzing data from the Earth flyby,” Bolton informed me.

The amateur image processing team of Ken Kremer and Marco Di Lorenzo has stitched together several portraits from raw images captured as Juno sped over Argentina, South America and the South Atlantic Ocean and within 347 miles (560 kilometers) of the surface. We’ve collected the gallery here for all to enjoy.

Several portraits showing the swirling clouds and land masses of the Earth’s globe have already been kindly featured this week by Alan Boyle at NBC News and at the Daily Mail online.

NASA's Juno probe captured the image data for this composite picture during its Earth flyby on Oct. 9 over Argentina,  South America and the southern Atlantic Ocean. Raw imagery was stitched by Ken Kremer and Marco Di Lorenzo in this view taken by a near-infrared filter that is typically used to detect methane. Credit: NASA/JPL/SwRI/MSSS/Ken Kremer/Marco Di Lorenzo
NASA’s Juno probe captured the image data for this composite picture during its Earth flyby on Oct. 9 over Argentina, South America and the southern Atlantic Ocean. Raw imagery was stitched by Ken Kremer and Marco Di Lorenzo in this view taken by a near-infrared filter that is typically used to detect methane. Credit: NASA/JPL/SwRI/MSSS/Ken Kremer/Marco Di Lorenzo

Raw images from the Junocam camera are collected in strips – like a push broom. So they have to be carefully reconstructed and realigned to match up. But it can’t be perfect because the spacecraft is constantly rotating and its speeding past Earth at over 78,000 mph.

So the perspective of Earth’s surface features seen by Junocam is changing during the imaging.

And that’s what is fascinating – to see the sequential view of Earth’s beautiful surface changing as the spacecraft flew over the coast of South America and the South Atlantic towards Africa – from the dayside to the nightside.

This composite shows more than half of Earth’s disk over the coast of Argentina and the South Atlantic Ocean as the Juno probe slingshotted by on Oct. 9, 2013 for a gravity assisted acceleration to Jupiter. The mosaic was assembled from raw images taken by the Junocam imager. Credit: NASA/JPL/SwRI/MSSS/Ken Kremer/Marco Di Lorenzo
This composite shows more than half of Earth’s disk over the coast of Argentina and the South Atlantic Ocean as the Juno probe slingshotted by on Oct. 9, 2013 for a gravity assisted acceleration to Jupiter. The mosaic was assembled from raw images taken by the Junocam imager. Credit: NASA/JPL/SwRI/MSSS/Ken Kremer/Marco Di Lorenzo

It’s rare to get such views since only a few spacecraft have swung by Earth in this manner – for example Galileo and MESSENGER – on their way to distant destinations.

Coincidentally this week, the Cygnus cargo carrier departed the ISS over South America.

Fortunately, the Juno team knew right from the start that the flyby of Earth did accomplish its primary goal of precisely targeting Juno towards Jupiter – to within 2 kilometers of the aim point, despite going into safe mode.

“We are on our way to Jupiter as planned,” Juno Project manager Rick Nybakken, told me in a phone interview soon after the flyby of Earth. Nybakken is from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab in Pasadena, CA.

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

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
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

It also accelerated the ships velocity by 16,330 mph (26,280 km/h) – thereby enabling Juno 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 stitched from raw image data captured by methane near-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 is stitched from raw image data captured by methane near-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!

It was likely initiated by an incorrect setting for a fault protection trigger for the spacecraft’s battery when Juno was briefly in an eclipse during the flyby.

Nybakken also said that the probe was “power positive and we have full command ability,” while it was in safe mode.

Safe mode is a designated fault protective state that is preprogrammed into spacecraft software in case something goes amiss. It also aims the craft sunwards thereby enabling the solar arrays to keep the vehicle powered.

False-color composite of a sliver of Earth snapped by Juno during flyby on Oct. 9, 2013.  This mosaic is stitched from raw image data captured by methane near-infrared filter on Junocam imager at 11:57:30 PDT.  Credit: NASA/JPL/SwRI/MSSS/Ken Kremer/Marco Di Lorenzo
False-color composite of a sliver of Earth snapped by Juno during flyby on Oct. 9, 2013. This mosaic is stitched from raw image data captured by methane near-infrared filter on Junocam imager at 11:57:30 PDT. Credit: NASA/JPL/SwRI/MSSS/Ken Kremer/Marco Di Lorenzo

The Earth flyby maneuver was necessary because the initial Atlas V rocket launch on Aug. 5, 2011 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL was not powerful enough to place Juno on a direct trajectory flight to Jupiter.

As of today, Juno is more than was 6.7 million miles (10.8 million kilometers) from Earth and 739 million miles (7.95 astronomical units) from Jupiter. It has traveled 1.01 billion miles (1.63 billion kilometers, or 10.9 AU) since launch.

With Juno now on course for our solar system’s largest planet, there won’t be no any new planetary images taken until it arrives at the Jovian system in 2016. Juno will then capture the first ever images of Jupiter’s north and south poles.

We have never seen Jupiter’s poles imaged from the prior space missions, and it’s not possible from Earth.

During a year long mission at Jupiter, Juno will use its nine science instruments to probe deep inside the planet to reveal its 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.”

Based on what we’ve seen so far, Junocam is sure to provide spectacular views of the gas giants poles and cloud tops.

Only 982 days to go !

Ken Kremer

Credit: NASA/JPL
Credit: NASA/JPL

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