The average person may not be able to identify every planet in our solar system; however, most will recognize Jupiter, due to its enormous size and Great Red Spot. This giant planet is the fifth planet from our sun and is also the largest planet in our solar system. It is named after the king of the gods from Roman mythology.
To explore and better understand it’s evolution, NASA created the mission, Juno. While an attempt to make the mission name an actual acronym, Juno is simply named after the wife of the king of the gods, Jupiter. The spacecraft will investigate 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.
Juno’s payload includes the following:
- A gravity/radio science system (Gravity Science)
- A six-wavelength microwave radiometer for atmospheric sounding and composition (MWR)
- A vector magnetometer (MAG)
- Plasma and energetic particle detectors (JADE and JEDI)
- A radio/plasma wave experiment (Waves)
- An ultraviolet imager/spectrometer (UVS)
- An infrared imager/spectrometer (JIRAM)
- Color camera (JunoCam) – JunoCam is not necessary for scientific purposes; however, it will likely provide the public with what should be some of the most vivid images of the giant planet ever captured.
The figure below shows the Juno orbiter along with additional details.
We worked alongside with the development team for four years, sometimes at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California, and sometimes at Lockheed Martin in Denver, Colorado. We all came to admire the elegant, intricate mission design, and the profound and complex science objectives. While none too great to overcome, there were certainly challenges we faced everywhere. Often, these challenges were the small things that were the most difficult. The overall design and implementation was nearly unchanged from the beginning days. For our IV&V team, it was a project where we all learned new ways of describing and viewing our work. An open mind was required at all times, and creativity was at a premium. In the end we were successful, and that made the launch even more amazing.
On August 5, 2011, NASA launched the Juno spacecraft from Cape Canaveral, Florida. It was a blistering hot and humid day typical for Florida this time of year. A couple of the team members from the Juno IV&V team were lucky enough to attend the launch. It was very exciting, especially never having attended a launch before. There were a couple of planned holds during the countdown, however, during one of these, there was a helium leak discovered on the ground system that threatened the launch to be canceled. Everyone waited anxiously while the intense heat from the sun continued to beat down. A bold and overheated member of our group talked the refreshment stand out of a bucket of ice which we promptly stuffed into our hats and shirts in order to cool down. It was effective, but we looked like shipwreck survivors. Making matters worse, a boat ventured into a restricted area and had to be escorted out of the area before the launch could proceed. Fortunately, these issues were resolved before the launch window expired, and the Juno countdown continued. At T-0, the Atlas V launch vehicle blasted off. Speakers mounted near the spectators allowed the crowed to start to hear the rumblings from the rocket real time. The static-like sound intensified until overtaken by the actual thundering sounds from the rocket once the sound waves made their way across the bay. The rocket seemed to hover at first, but quickly accelerated. After a short time, the rocket was out of sight. It was a tremendous relief to see the rocket leave our view without any sign of an anomaly. However, the bigger relief was about an hour later when we heard that the Juno separated successfully from the launch vehicle.
Nearly five years later, Juno is scheduled to reach Jupiter on July 4, 2016 during the maneuver called Jupiter Orbit Insertion (JOI). JOI is the most risky step remaining in the mission. This type of maneuver can and has failed on past missions. So even though the IV&V team was able to develop significant confidence that the flight software would successfully support this maneuver, there still exists a possibility that something could go wrong. However, we’ll all be anxiously awaiting this JOI and look forward to the data that will come following the 37 orbits the craft will make around this giant planet.