CAPE CANAVERAL Fla. – Many experts took time out of their hectic schedules to talk with Universe Today in the day leading up to the launch of the Juno spacecraft. Some even took the time to talk to us just minutes before the probe was scheduled to be launched on its mission. Check out what they had to say below:
Juno Project Scientist Steve Levin was at Kennedy Space Center to watch the Juno probe begin its five-year journey to Jupiter. He took a few minutes of his time to talk about what his expectations are for this mission.
Levin has been with JPL since 1990, one of the previous projects he worked on is the Planck mission which launched in 2009.
Levin believes that Juno could fundamentally change the way we view Jupiter. He was one of many VIPs that descended on Kennedy Space Center to watch as Juno thundered to orbit atop at Atlas V rocket.
Sami Asmar is part of the science team that is working on the Juno project. He was at the rollout of the Atlas rocket to the pad. Here is what he had to say about the mission (note the Atlas rocket moving out behind him).
Bill Nye the Science Guy was a very busy man while at Kennedy Space Center. He still took the time to chat with Universe Today about his views on this mission. Unfortunately, with little time to spare, we had to conduct the interview within minutes of the first launch attempt. A good chunk of Nye’s interview – was drowned out by the lead up to the countdown!
The usual launch of an Atlas consists of the launch team coming in, pushing a button and going home – the launch vehicle is that reliable. This day, things occurred quite differently. A technical issue coupled with a wayward boat that had drifted too close to the launch pad saw the launch time slip from 11:34 a.m. EDT to 12:25 p.m. When the rocket did take off however it was a spectacular sight to behold, faster than other iterations of the Atlas, it roared off the pad, sending Juno on its way to Jupiter.
NASA’s solar powered Juno spacecraft blasted off today (Aug.5)from Cape Canaveral today to begin a 2.8 billion kilometer science trek to discover the genesis of Jupiter hidden deep inside the planet’s interior.
Upon arrival at Jupiter in July 2016, JUNO will fire its braking rockets and go into polar orbit and circle the planet 33 times over about one year. 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.
The spacecraft is healthy and the solar panels successfully deployed.
Check out the photo album of Juno’s launch from the Universe Today team of Alan Walters and Ken Kremer.
“Jupiter is the Rosetta Stone of our solar system,” said Scott Bolton, Juno’s principal investigator from the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio. “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.”
Juno was launched atop a powerful Atlas V rocket augmented by 5 solid rocket boosters – built by United Launch Alliance
“Today, with the launch of the Juno spacecraft, NASA began a journey to yet another new frontier,” NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said. “The future of exploration includes cutting-edge science like this to help us better understand our solar system and an ever-increasing array of challenging destinations.”
Send Ken your Juno launch photos to post at Universe Today
The Atlas V rocket that will power NASA’s new Juno science probe to Jupiter was rolled out to the launch pad at Space Launch Complex 41 and now sits poised for blastoff on Friday, Aug. 5 at 15:34 UT (11:34 a.m. EDT) from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.
The Atlas V booster rocket was pushed out of its protective hanger, known as the Vertical Integration Facility, and towards Pad 41 this morning starting at 8:01 a.m. and took about 40 minutes to reach its destination.
Weather forecasters continues to call for a 70 percent chance of favorable conditions at launch time, but the approach of Tropical Storm Emily could throw a wrench in NASA’s plans depending on the track following by the storm over the remaining prelaunch period.
According to continuing weather updates, Emily is dissipating.
Managers approved Juno for flight at this morning’s Launch Readiness Review. The 4 ton Juno spacecraft will embark on a five year trek to Jupiter, our solar system’s largest planet and seek to understand the ingredients necessary for planetary formations.
Juno is perched inside a 5 meter diameter payload fairing and mated to the most powerful version of the Atlas V rocket – an Atlas 551 – with 2.4 million pounds of liftoff thrust. The 20 story tall Atlas 551 uses a standard Atlas booster with five solid rocket boosters in the first stage and a single engine Centaur in the second stage.
The launch window extends for 69 minutes.
The Atlas V is built by United Launch Alliance (ULA).
Juno will orbit Jupiter 33 times and search for the existence of a solid planetary core, map Jupiter’s intense magnetic field, measure the amount of water and ammonia in the deep atmosphere, and observe the planet’s auroras. Each orbit lasts 11 days
The spacecraft will provide the first detailed glimpse of Jupiter’s poles via a specially designed camera. The elliptical orbit will allow Juno to avoid most of Jupiter’s harsh radiation regions that can severely damage the spacecraft systems.
See my photo album from the launch pad published here.
NASA has just released the first full frame images of Vesta– and they are thrilling! The new images unveil Vesta as a real world with extraordinarily varied surface details and in crispy clear high resolution for the first time in human history.
Vesta appears totally alien and completely unique. “It is one of the last major uncharted worlds in our solar system,” says Dr. Marc Rayman, Dawn’s chief engineer and mission manager at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. “Now that we are in orbit we can see that it’s a unique and fascinating place.”
“We have been calling Vesta the smallest terrestrial planet,” said Chris Russell, Dawn’s principal investigator at the UCLA. “The latest imagery provides much justification for our expectations. They show that a variety of processes were once at work on the surface of Vesta and provide extensive evidence for Vesta’s planetary aspirations.”
The newly published image (shown above) was taken at a distance of 3,200 miles (5,200 kilometers) by Dawn’s framing camera as the probe continues spiraling down to her initial science survey orbit of some 1,700 miles (2,700 km) altitude. The new images show the entire globe all the way since the giant asteroid turns on its axis once every five hours and 20 minutes.
Vesta and its new moon – Dawn – are approximately 114 million miles (184 million kilometers) distant away from Earth.
“The new observations of Vesta are an inspirational reminder of the wonders unveiled through ongoing exploration of our solar system,” said Jim Green, planetary division director at NASA Headquarters in Washington.
Dawn was launched atop a Delta II Heavy booster rocket in September 2007, took a gravity assist as it flew past Mars and has been thrusting with exotic ion propulsion for about 70 percent of the time ever since.
Dawn will spend 1 year collecting science data in orbit around Vesta before heading off to the Dwarf Planet Ceres.
The science team has just completed their press briefing. Watch for my more detailed report upcoming soon.
And don’t forget JUNO launches on Aug 5 – It’s an exciting week for NASA Space Science and I’ll be reporting on the Jupiter orbiter’s blastoff and more – as Opportunity closes in on Spirit Point !
NASA’s groundbreaking interplanetary science is all inter connected – because Vesta and Ceres failed to form into full-fledged planets thanks to the disruptive influence of Jupiter.
In less than one week’s time, NASA’s $1.1 Billion Juno probe will blast off on the most powerful Atlas V rocket ever built and embark on a five year cruise to Jupiter where it will seek to elucidate the mysteries of the birth and evolution of our solar system’s largest planet and how that knowledge applies to the remaining planets.
The stage was set for Juno’s liftoff on August 5 at 11:34 a.m. after the solar-powered spacecraft was mated atop the Atlas V rocket at Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral and firmly bolted in place at 10:42 a.m. EDT on July 27.
“We’re about to start our journey to Jupiter to unlock the secrets of the early solar system,” said Scott Bolton, the mission’s principal investigator from the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio. “After eight years of development, the spacecraft is ready for its important mission.”
The launch window for Juno extends from Aug. 5 through Aug. 26. The launch time on Aug. 5 opens at 11:34 a.m. EDT and closes at 12:43 p.m. EDT. Juno is the second mission in NASA’s New Frontiers program.
JUNO’s three giant solar panels will unfurl about five minutes after payload separation following the launch, said Jan Chodas, Juno’s project manager at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, Calif.
The probe will cartwheel through space during its five year trek to Jupiter.
Upon arrival in July 2016, JUNO will fire its braking rockets and go into polar orbit and circle Jupiter 33 times over about one year. The goal is to find out more about the planet’s origins, interior structure and atmosphere, observe the aurora, map the intense magnetic field and investigate the existence of a solid planetary core.
“Juno will become the first polar orbiting spacecraft at Jupiter. Not only are we over the poles, but we’re getting closer to Jupiter in our orbit than any other spacecraft has gone,” Bolton elaborated at a briefing for reporters at the Kennedy Space Center. “We’re only 5,000 kilometers above the cloud tops and so we’re skimming right over those cloud tops and we’re actually dipping down beneath the radiation belts, which is a very important thing for us. Because those radiation belts at Jupiter are the most hazardous region in the entire solar system other than going right to the sun itself.”
“Jupiter probably formed first. It’s the largest of all the planets and in fact it’s got more material in it than all the rest of the solar system combined. If I took everything in the solar system except the sun, it could all fit inside Jupiter. So we want to know the recipe.”
Watch for my continuing updates and on-site launch coverage of Juno, only the 2nd probe from Earth to ever orbit Jupiter. Galileo was the first.
The huge solar-powered Juno spacecraft will skim to within 4800 kilometers (3000 miles) of the cloud tops of Jupiter to study the origin and evolution of our solar system’s largest planet. Understanding the mechanism of how Jupiter formed will lead to a better understanding of the origin of planetary systems around other stars throughout our galaxy.
Juno will be spinning like a windmill as it fly’s in a highly elliptical polar orbit and investigates the gas giant’s origins, structure, atmosphere and magnetosphere with a suite of nine science instruments.
During the five year cruise to Jupiter, the 3,600 kilogram probe will fly by Earth once in 2013 to pick up speed and accelerate Juno past the asteroid belt on its long journey to the Jovian system where it arrives in July 2016.
Juno will orbit Jupiter 33 times and search for the existence of a solid planetary core, map Jupiter’s intense magnetic field, measure the amount of water and ammonia in the deep atmosphere, and observe the planet’s auroras.
The mission will provide the first detailed glimpse of Jupiter’s poles and is set to last approximately one year. The elliptical orbit will allow Juno to avoid most of Jupiter’s harsh radiation regions that can severely damage the spacecraft systems.
Juno was designed and built by Lockheed Martin Space Systems, Denver, and air shipped in a protective shipping container inside the belly of a U.S. Air Force C-17 Globemaster cargo jet to the Astrotech payload processing facility in Titusville, Fla.
This week the spacecraft begins about four months of final functional testing and integration inside the climate controlled clean room and undergoes a thorough verification that all its systems are healthy. Other processing work before launch includes attachment of the long magnetometer boom and solar arrays which arrived earlier.
Juno is the first solar powered probe to be launched to the outer planets and operate at such a great distance from the sun. Since Jupiter receives 25 times less sunlight than Earth, Juno will carry three giant solar panels, each spanning more than 20 meters (66 feet) in length. They will remain continuously in sunlight from the time they are unfurled after launch through the end of the mission.
“The Juno spacecraft and the team have come a long way since this project was first conceived in 2003,” said Scott Bolton, Juno’s principal investigator, based at Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio, in a statement. “We’re only a few months away from a mission of discovery that could very well rewrite the books on not only how Jupiter was born, but how our solar system came into being.”
Juno is slated to launch aboard the most powerful version of the Atlas V rocket – augmented by 5 solid rocket boosters – from Cape Canaveral, Fla. on August 5. The launch window extends through August 26. Juno is the second mission in NASA’s New Frontiers program.
NASA’s Mars Curiosity Rover will follow Juno to the Atlas launch pad, and is scheduled to liftoff in late November 2011. Read my stories about Curiosity here and here.
Because of cuts to NASA’s budget by politicians in Washington, the long hoped for mission to investigate the Jovian moon Europa may be axed, along with other high priority science missions. Europa may harbor subsurface oceans of liquid water and is a prime target in NASA’s search for life beyond Earth.
It used to be the case that if you wanted to send a spacecraft mission out past the asteroid belt, you’d need a chunk of plutonium-238 to generate electric power – like for Pioneers 10 and 11, Voyagers 1 and 2, Galileo, Cassini, even Ulysses which just did a big loop out and back to get a new angle on the Sun – and now New Horizons on its way to Pluto.
But in 2011, the Juno mission to Jupiter is scheduled for launch – the first outer planet exploration mission to be powered by solar panels. And also scheduled for 2011, in another break with tradition – Curiosity, the Mars Science Laboratory will be the first Mars rover to be powered by a plutonium-238 radioisotope thermoelectric generator – or RTG.
I mean OK, the Viking landers had RTGs, but they weren’t rovers. And the rovers (including Sojourner) had radioisotope heaters, but they weren’t RTGs.
So, solar or RTG – what’s best? Some commentators have suggested that NASA’s decision to power Juno with solar is a pragmatic one – seeking to conserve a dwindling supply of RTGs – which have a bit of a PR problem due to the plutonium.
However, if it works, why not push the limits of solar? Although some of our longest functioning probes (like the 33 year old Voyagers) are RTG powered, their long-term survival is largely a result of them operating far away from the harsh radiation of the inner solar system – where things are more likely to break down before they run out of power. That said, since Juno will lead a perilous life flying close to Jupiter’s own substantial radiation, longevity may not be a key feature of its mission.
Perhaps RTG power has more utility. It should enable Curiosity to go on roving throughout the Martian winter – and perhaps manage a range of analytical, processing and data transmission tasks at night, unlike the previous rovers.
With respect to power output, Juno’s solar panels would allegedly produce a whopping 18 kilowatts in Earth orbit, but will only manage 400 watts in Jupiter orbit. If correct, this is still on par with the output of a standard RTG unit – although a large spacecraft like Cassini can stack several RTG units together to generate up to 1 kilowatt.
So, some pros and cons there. Nonetheless, there is a point – which we might position beyond Jupiter’s orbit now – where solar power just isn’t going to cut it and RTGs still look like the only option.
RTGs take advantage of the heat generated by a chunk of radioactive material (generally plutonium 238 in a ceramic form), surrounding it with thermocouples which use the thermal gradient between the heat source and the cooler outer surface of the RTG unit to generate current.
In response to any OMG it’s radioactive concerns, remember that RTGs travelled with the Apollo 12-17 crews to power their lunar surface experiment packages – including the one on Apollo 13 – which was returned unused to Earth with the lunar module Aquarius – the crew’s life boat until just before re-entry. Allegedly, NASA tested the waters where the remains of Aquarius ended up and found no trace of plutonium contamination – much as expected. It’s unlikely that its heat tested container was damaged on re-entry and its integrity was guaranteed for ten plutonium-238 half-lives, that is 900 years.
In any case, the most dangerous thing you can do with plutonium is to concentrate it. In the unlikely event that an RTG disintegrates on Earth re-entry and its plutonium is somehow dispersed across the planet – well, good. The bigger worry would be that it somehow stays together as a pellet and plonks into your beer without you noticing. Cheers.