NASA has conducted many missions to outer space before and it continues to plan and launch many more. However, out of the many missions, Juno appears to be one of the rarely understood and followed missions. This essay focuses on the key features associated with the design of the mission including its mission statements; instruments; launch and construction information. It will however be difficult to report on the actual findings from the mission as it is still in progress and it is expected to end in 2018 (NASA). It is nonetheless possible to project some of the essential areas that the mission findings are expected to cover. The information was obtained from NASA’s website.
Construction and Launch
Juno is an ongoing mission launched in 2011 and expected to continue until February 2018. The mission was launched on an Atlas V- 55 rocket which exited from Cape Canaveral. The launch was carried out on 5 August 2011, and the rocket was expected to arrive at Jupiter in 2016 July. The objective of the mission was to orbit the planet about 32 times between the arrival time and the end of the mission. To accomplish this, the spacecraft used was solar powered and spun in an elliptical orbit. It was designed to avoid most of the high radiation areas associated with Jupiter’s atmosphere. The spinning design was selected as it allowed ease of control and enhanced stabilityof the spacecraft. The spacecraft was spun by rocket- motors immediately after launch and only later were the solar powered arrays switched on. The spacecraft was designed to accomplish three rotations per minute and to travel from Jupiter’s pole to pole in two hours. Juno’s instruments sweep through the planetary space once in every rotation. This givesapproximately 400 space views of the planet every two hours.
The spacecraft is approximately 20 feet long to cater for the extensive area required for solar panel operations. Since the Atlas V-55 is the first rocket designed to operate at a great distance from the sun, it was necessary that large solar panels be used in its creation to concentrate sun light at such a great distance. A total of four solar panels were used, with the objective that they would remain in the sunlight for most of the duration of the mission unless there was an earth fly-by. With modest power needs, Juno benefitted due to the advances in the development of solar power technologies. To avoid the high radiation associated with Jupiter, Juno carries a radiation shielded vault to protect the spacecraft equipment. In NASA’s space exploration vision; this is one of the primary objectives hence the spacecraft complies with NASA’s space exploration goals.
The primary objective of mission Juno is to provide a comprehension of the evolution and the origin of the planet Jupiter. This will be achieved through an understanding of the key processes involved in the formation of the solar system. Since Jupiter is one of the giant planets in the solar system, its exploration will help in understanding the processes through which planetary systems develop around other stars as well as their discovery. From this perspective, Juno uses a set of simple yet effective instruments to help in the achievement of its core objectives which include:
- To determine the percentage of water coverage on the planet and subsequently to apply the information on determining the relevant planetary formation theory for Jupiter.
- To determine various properties of the planet’s atmosphere including its temperature, cloud motions and composition among other essential features.
- To help reveal the deep internal structures of the planet and use this to map its gravitational and magnetic fields.
- To study the impacts of the planet’s huge magnetic force on its atmosphere through an exploration of the planet’s polar magnetospheres.
Besides these key objectives, Juno is also aimed at helping to understand the role played by giant planets in the structuring of the solar planet and the modes of formation of such giant planets. The motivations behind the mission include Greek mythology and the formation of liquid hydrogen at the core of the planet. Greek mythology claims that Jupiter, a god clouded himself in great mystery using a cloud and it took his wife Juno to uncover his core. Like the myth, Juno aims at uncovering the details hidden by the cloud that is Jupiter’s heavy atmosphere. It is purported that deep within the atmosphere of Jupiter, hydrogen gas is compressed into liquid hydrogen under high pressure. The ball of liquid hydrogen at the core thus becomes the force behind the strong magnetic field associated with Jupiter, which influences the earth due to the precipitation of charged particles towards the earth’s surface. Juno will thus collect samples of the charged particles and hydrogen molecules for the first time ever for studies at the end of the mission.
Juno spacecraft is fitted with several key instruments which are to help in accomplishing its goals. Each of the instruments in the spacecraft is associated with at least one of the primary objectives of the mission. For instance, to help in studying and mapping Jupiter’s structure, magnetic and gravity fields, the spacecraft is fitted with gravity science magnetometers. The spacecraft is also fitted with a microwave radiometer whose purpose is to obtain the measurements of the water coverage and the quantity of hydrogen on the planet. The radiometer operates based on a six wave system to help in evaluating the atmospheric composition and sounding. A vector magnetometer is also fitted into the spacecraft. This, like the gravity science magnetometers helps in the determination of the planet’s magnetic fields and their mapping.
Other instruments in Juno include: Ultra- violet and infra-red imagers (UVS and JIRAM), particle detectors described as JADE and JEDI and a plasma wave experiment (Waves). The UVS and JIRAM are used for taking the aurora and atmospheric images and also profiling the atmospheric compositions in the planet. JEDI, JADE and the waves sample the plasma waves, magnetic fields and the free particles in Jupiter’s atmosphere. The purpose of the three is to help in finding a connection between the atmospheric characteristics and the magnetic field associated with the planet. The focus of the three is on the poles as these are the places where magnetic fields are strongest in Jupiter. Furthermore, a color camera referred to as Juno cam was fitted into the spacecraft to help in relaying the live images of the planet to the public, especially the views of the poles. To develop the equipment used in the mission, straight forward technologies were used hence there was no need to develop any new technologies on any instrument. To fit all these, the spacecraft came to 4.5 meters in height.
Although mission Juno is yet to end, there are various key discoveries that are projected to be achievable from the mission. For instance, many theories have been developed concerning the formation of the planets. However, there is no certainty on the actual process that occurred. It is probable that Jupiter was one of the first planets to be formed based on its composition which is mainly hydrogen and helium. Because of this, it is probable for the origin of the planets to be understood based on findings from Jupiter. Through Juno, it will be possible to apply characterization of various features of the planet to help in creating a probable origin theory of the planets. Moreover, Jupiter is also reported to have retained the original composition. Through Juno, it will be determined whether there is a solid core underneath the cloud of helium and hydrogen and subsequently help in determining the origin of Jupiter and of the solar system as a whole. Mapping the gravitational and magnetic fields will help to accomplish this.
In addition to the origin, there have been questions about the depth of penetration of Jupiter’s colorful atmosphere, the features and belts of the same. For the first time, Juno will help in acquiring this comprehension through mapping the variations in atmospheric compositions, clouds and patterns and temperatures. By determining the planetary motions associated with Jupiter and its global structure, it will be possible for Juno to help in understanding even the characteristics of the internal structure of the planet.
In conclusion, Juno has great potential in terms of discoveries about the origins of the solar system. Without a doubt the successful completion of the mission will be very informative to the field of astronomy as a whole.
“Juno.” NASA, 25 August 2016. www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/juno/main/index.html