Wednesday, August 03, 2011

NASA spacecraft to begin five year voyage to Jupiter Friday

NASA's Juno spacecraft will reach Jupiter in 2016. (NASA)

A NASA spacecraft will begin a 1700 million mile voyage on Friday from America's Space Coast as it travels to our solar system's largest and most complex planet.

NASA's Juno spacecraft will study Jupiter's atmosphere for moisture and map it's magnetic fields and much more during it's one year mission around the planet.

Scientists hope to understand the make up of the large gaseous planet and it's origins, and answer the ago-old question, "does Jupiter have a solid core?"

The 45th Weather Squadron at Cape Canaveral stated today that the launch weather will be 70% favorable on Friday. Clouds, light winds and a low chance of rain in the area during the morning hours are the forecast.

Forecasters state that slow moving tropical storm Emily should not affect the launch day weather.

A United Launch Alliance Atlas V 551 rocket is set to lift-off from launch complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station at 11:34:01 a.m. EDT on Friday. The launch window runs until 12:43 p.m.

The 197-foot tall Atlas must launch within 22 days of Aug. 5 due to the alignment of the planets and the course Juno will take to reach Jupiter.

The Atlas V will launch into a 28.8 degree inclination using a powerful core stage RD-180 main engine and five solid rocket boosters. The boosters will burn for the first 92 seconds of launch while the core engine will continue to burn for another three minutes.

Two burns by the Atlas' Centaur upper stage will move Juno higher and faster in earth orbit.

Juno will separate from the Centaur at 12:27:49 p.m., as the spacecraft soars 141 nautical miles high over northwestern Australia.

As Juno sails free for the first time, controllers on the ground will begin deploying the craft's three solar arrays five minutes after separation as Juno begins a full check out in orbit. Two of the three arrays are made up of four-hinged segments while the third is only three segments with a vector magnetometer at the end.

The three arrays extend from the hexagonal core of the spacecraft, giving the spacecraft a length of 66-feet.

The $1.1 billion interplanetary mission will head out past Mars before circling back around earth on October 9, 2013 for a gravity boost, much like a sling shot affect.

At closest approach, Juno will soar 311 miles above earth, before speeding off toward the gaseous planet.

Juno is scheduled to arrive at Jupiter on Independence Day 2016, to begin a one year mission to study in high resolution it's magnetic fields.

The craft's instruments include ultraviolet and infrared imagers, a high resolution color camera and several plasma and radio experiment packages.

"Like the sun, Jupiter is mostly hydrogen and helium, so it must have formed early, capturing most of the material left after our star came to be," NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. said. "How this happened, however, is unclear."

Juno will perform 33 orbits during that one year as it circles around the planet's poles.

Juno's mission will conclude on October 16, 2017 as controllers at the Jet Propulsion Lab fire the craft's thrusters to begin it's deorbit and send it into Jupiter's thick, heavy atmosphere.

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