Here's how to watch the orbit insertion!
With Independence Day marking happy celebrations around America, NASA will have another reason to celebrate as its Juno Spacecraft makes a final approach before reaching Jupiter later this evening.
After launching in August 2011, the spacecraft has been traveling for five years and will finally reach its destination later this evening (July 4) at 10:30 pm EDT, where it will go into orbit around the gas giant! Juno will perform an orbit insertion maneuver, which will require its main engines to be turned on for about 35-minutes to slow the spacecraft down by 1212 miles per hour (1950 kilometers per hour) as it approaches Jupiter, before it is captured into orbit around the planet.
NASA doesn’t actually need the main engine to burn for the entire 35 minutes. In fact, 20 minutes would slow down the spacecraft enough, allowing it to get into orbit.
“After it’s been firing for somewhere around 20 minutes to a half hour, we will know it’s been on long enough to put the spacecraft into orbit," Steve Levin, a Juno project scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, told The Verge. "So even if something went wrong at that point, we wouldn’t be in the right orbit, but we’d still be orbiting Jupiter, and that’s a very recoverable thing."
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Nonetheless, NASA will have to get things right from the start as Juno has only one opportunity to get into orbit. If anything goes wrong this evening with the orbit insertion maneuver, NASA won’t be in any position to help the spacecraft as it takes almost 48 minutes to send a radio signals to Jupiter and then another 48 minutes before a return signal gets back to Earth. NASA will have to rely on pre-programmed instruction, as communication with Juno will be delayed.
You can watch live coverage of the orbit insertion event, which will be hosted by NASA TV at 10:30 pm EDT today:
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Juno’s mission goal is to improve the understanding of how Jupiter formed, providing astronomers deeper insight into the planets evolution. The spacecraft will use its instrumentation to investigate Jupiter’s interior structure, deep atmosphere and its magnetosphere. Juno will orbit around Jupiter 37 times over the next 20 months collecting valuable data, as well as becoming the first spacecraft to orbit over the poles of Jupiter.
"We are ready,” said Scott Bolton, principal investigator of Juno from the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio in a media release. "The science team is incredibly excited to be arriving at Jupiter. The engineers and mission controllers are performing at an Olympic level getting Juno successfully into orbit. As Juno barrels down on Jupiter, the scientists are busy looking at the amazing approach science the spacecraft has already returned to Earth. Jupiter is spectacular from afar and will be absolutely breathtaking from close up.”
You can also watch the coverage with NASA’s Eyes on the Solar System app, which allows you to track Juno’s progress in real time.
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