NASA’s $1 billion Juno mission just got a much-needed extension. The space agency announced today that the Juno spacecraft will continue its scientific operations in Jupiter’s system until July 2021.
This gives the Juno probe an additional 41 months to carry out its primary science objectives, NASA pointed out.
“An independent panel of experts confirmed in April that Juno is on track to achieve its science objectives and is already returning spectacular results,” NASA officials wrote in a news release, adding that “The Juno spacecraft and all instruments are healthy and operating nominally.”
This confirms the earlier reports that the Juno mission could be extended for another three years. As reported by the Inquisitr, NASA had originally planned to end the mission this summer, sometime after Juno’s 13th flyby of Jupiter, slated for July 16.
Launched in 2011, the spacecraft has been orbiting the gas giant since July 4, 2016, gathering a wealth of data that has helped us understand more about the biggest planet in our solar system.
Scott Bolton, leader of the Juno mission and a planetary scientist at the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio, chimed in on the importance of the big announcement.
“This is great news for planetary exploration, as well as for the Juno team.”
Bolton had previously told Gizmodo that “Juno needs more time to gather our planned scientific measurements.”
Although Juno’s scientific operations are now expected to last only until July 2021, NASA will be funding the mission all through fiscal year 2022, when “analysis and mission close-out activities” are expected to take place, notes the space agency.
“With these funds, not only can the Juno team continue to answer long-standing questions about Jupiter that first fueled this exciting mission, but they’ll also investigate new scientific puzzles motivated by their discoveries thus far,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington.
Since the probe was initially supposed to follow in the footsteps of NASA’s Cassini spacecraft and crash into Jupiter’s atmosphere this July, the three-year extension allows Juno to cheat death for a while longer.
According to Engadget, the measure was necessary because the spacecraft is now forced to perform longer orbits than initially planned by the team. Due to a faulty valve in its fuel system, which impacts the probe’s main engine burns, Juno is stuck circling Jupiter once every 53 days, instead of the 14-day orbit it was originally supposed to do.
Nevertheless, Bolton says that these larger orbits will be able to carry the probe to the far reaches of Jupiter’s magnetic field, last time explored more than two decades ago by the Galileo spacecraft, the Inquisitr previously reported.
Another bonus is that the prolonged orbits come with less radiation, which bodes well for the Juno spacecraft and its state-of-the-art scientific instruments, notes Bolton.