Trouble in space for NASA Juno mission at Jupiter

Not everything going as planned for Jupiter orbiter

This artist's rendering shows NASA's Juno spacecraft making one of its close passes over Jupiter.
This artist's rendering shows NASA's Juno spacecraft making one of its close passes over Jupiter. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

NASA’s Juno spacecraft experienced a problem last week, delaying the start of quicker, closer orbits around Jupiter.

Juno was scheduled to fire its engine on Wednesday, moving into 14-day orbits from its current 53-day trips around the giant gas planet, but two valves didn’t open as planned last Friday, NASA said in a mission update.

The valves are an important part of the engine firing process, said Juno project manager Rick Nybakken.

Now mission managers have delayed Juno’s engine burn from Wednesday until Dec. 11, according to NASA, meaning Juno will stay in the 53-day orbits while it is collecting science around Jupiter.

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 “The valves should have opened in a few seconds, but it took several minutes,” said Nybakken. “We need to better understand this issue before moving forward with a burn of the main engine.”

The $1 billion mission is designed to study Jupiter’s atmosphere, determine if the giant gas planet has a core and answer questions about how the solar system formed, using Juno's onboard science instruments. Jupiter is the solar systems first planet and holds clues to how life eventually came to Earth.

“It is important to note that the orbital period does not affect the quality of the science that takes place during one of Juno’s close flybys of Jupiter,” said Scott Bolton, Juno’s principal investigator from the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio.

NASA will give a public mission update on Wednesday at 4 p.m. Juno's team will  discuss some of the early science results and publicly edited images from the spacecraft's camera, JunoCam. The news conference will stream live on NASA TV.

Juno arrived to Jupiter on July 4 after a five-year journey. The spacecraft launched on August 5, 2011, from Cape Canaveral.

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