NASA Begins Building New Spacecraft to Visit Jupiter
By Denise Chow
Space.com Staff Writer
posted: 07 April 2010
02:18 pm ET
NASA has begun assembling its new Juno space probe in preparation for a mission to Jupiter to help scientists understand the origin and evolution of the largest planet in our solar system.
The assembly, testing and launch preparations phase for the Juno spacecraft began on April 1 at Lockheed Martin Space Systems in Denver, Colo. Engineers and technicians will now spend the next few months fitting instruments and navigation equipment onto the spacecraft.
The mission, led by astronomer Scott Bolton of Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio, Texas., is slated to launch in August 2011 and reach Jupiter in 2016 [photos of Jupiter].
"We're excited the puzzle pieces are coming together," Bolton said. "We're one important step closer to getting to Jupiter."
Jupiter, a gas giant, is the largest planet in the solar system. Underneath its dense cloud cover, the planet safeguards secrets to the basic processes and conditions that governed out solar system during its formation.
As our primary example of a giant planet, Jupiter can also provide critical knowledge that will help scientists understand the planetary systems that are being discovered around other stars, mission scientists said..
NASA's Juno mission is the first dedicated mission bound for Jupiter since the Galileo probe launched in 1989. Galileo's flight ended in 2003, when the aging probe was intentionally crashed into the gas giant to be destroyed in the crushing pressure of its intense atmosphere.
Unlike Galileo, which was powered by a nuclear radioisotope thermal generator, Juno will draw power from wing-like solar arrays.
The new spacecraft will carry nine science instruments on board to investigate the existence of a solid planetary core, map Jupiter's intense magnetic field, measure the amount of water and ammonia in the deep atmosphere, and observe the planet's auroras.
"We plan to be doing a lot of testing in the next few months," said Jan Chodas, Juno's project manager based at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. "We want to make sure the spacecraft is ready for the long journey to Jupiter and the harsh environment it will encounter there."
Lockheed Martin Space Systems is building the spacecraft for NASA and the Italian Space Agency in Rome is contributing an infrared spectrometer instrument and a portion of the radio science experiment.
In these pictures, workers are readying the propulsion module for NASA's Juno spacecraft bound for Jupiter. Assembly began April 1, 2010, in Denver, Colo. Launch is set for August 2011. Credit: NASA/JPL/Lockheed Martin.
An artist's illustration of NASA’s Juno spacecraft at Jupiter. Credit: NASA.
This view from a camera on the hull of the International Space Station shows the shuttle Discovery and its Leonardo cargo pod during transfer work on April 7, 2010 on NASA's STS-131 mission. Credit: NASA TV.
This nadir, 800mm view of the portside top part of Discovery's cabin was provided by one of the Expedition 23 crew members aboard the International Space Station. Image credit: NASA.
The International Space Station flew across the face of the moon over NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida approximately 15 minutes before the launch of space shuttle Discovery on the STS-131 mission. Discovery successfully launched on April 5 and is now docked with the station. STS-131 will deliver the multi-purpose logistics module Leonardo, filled with supplies, a new crew sleeping quarters and science racks that will be transferred to the International Space Station's laboratories. The crew also will switch out a gyroscope on the station’s truss, install a spare ammonia storage tank and retrieve a Japanese experiment from the station’s exterior.
Credit: Photo courtesy of Fernando Echeverria.