Posted: 15 September 2016, 11:35 a.m. EDT
Speaker: Rick Nybakken, project manager, Juno mission, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory
by Duane Hyland, AIAA Communications
What happens when you set out to explore Jupiter, the solar system’s largest planet — with the solar system’s largest magnetic field and fiercest radiation? Good things, according to Rick Nybakken, project manager of the Juno mission at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
During the William H. Pickering Lecture titled “The Juno Mission” on Sept. 14 at AIAA SPACE 2016 in Long Beach, California, Nybakken took audience members through the entire Juno program, from inception to the current status of the mission, and shared some amazing video and images collected so far.
Launched on Aug. 5, 2011, the Juno mission is studying the planet Jupiter by performing multiple polar orbits of the gas giant until 2018, when the spacecraft will deorbit the planet. Nybakken explained that the science gained from the Juno mission will “rewrite the history of how Jupiter was formed and the history of our solar system.”
The Juno spacecraft, Nybakken told the audience, is packed with scientific instruments set up to measure everything from the planet’s density, to the properties of its gaseous outputs, to the flow of liquid metal hydrogen on the planet’s surface, to the speed of its winds and the ferocity of its eternal storms. Equipped with a solar array “the size of an NBA basketball court,” the Juno spacecraft will be able to soak up all the available sunlight — only about .04 percent of what is available on Earth’s surface — to perform its mission.
Rick Nybakken, project manager, Juno mission, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, delivers The William H. Pickering Lecture, "The Juno Mission," on the evening of 14 September, at AIAA SPACE 2016, taking place 13–16 September 2016, in Long Beach, CA.
Engineers built the Juno spaceship to overcome such obstacles as Jupiter’s fierce radiation field and its overpowering magnetic field, which Nybakken explained is bigger than the sun.
To protect the craft from Jupiter’s massive radiation field, the engineers programmed it to travel a very narrow passage in the middle of the field where radiation is at a minimum. Nybakken described it as “flying through the eye of a hurricane” but noted that to be successful, they would have to do that 36 times during the mission. However, he also explained that over time, Juno would drift into the larger field, effectively ending the mission.
Among the images Nybakken shared with the audience were views of Jupiter from both the northern and southern polar orbital tracks, infrared imagery of the planet’s auroras and a detailed photograph of the planet’s great “red eye,” which is about the size of Earth.
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