NASA’s Juno mission successfully executed its first of 36 orbital flybys of Jupiter yesterday. The time of closest approach with the gas giant world was 13:44 UTC when Juno passed about 4,200 kilometres (2,600 miles) above Jupiter’s swirling clouds. At the time, Juno was travelling at 208,000 kilometres per hour (130,000 mph) with respect to the planet. This flyby was the closest Juno will get to Jupiter during its prime mission.
“Early post-flyby telemetry indicates that everything worked as planned and Juno is firing on all cylinders,” says Rick Nybakken, Juno project manager at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.
There are 35 more close flybys of Jupiter planned during Juno’s mission, which is scheduled to end in February 2018. The 27 August flyby was the first time Juno had its entire suite of science instruments activated and looking at the giant planet as the spacecraft zoomed past.
“We are getting some intriguing early data returns as we speak,” says Scott Bolton, principal investigator of Juno from the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio. “It will take days for all the science data collected during the flyby to be downlinked and even more to begin to comprehend what Juno and Jupiter are trying to tell us.”
While results from the spacecraft’s suite of instruments will be released down the road, a handful of images from Juno’s visible light imager – JunoCam – are expected to be released the next couple of weeks. Those images will include the highest-resolution views of the Jovian atmosphere and the first glimpse of Jupiter’s north and south poles.
“We are in an orbit nobody has ever been in before, and these images give us a whole new perspective on this gas-giant world,” says Bolton.
The Juno spacecraft launched on 5 August 2011, from Cape Canaveral, Florida, and arrived at Jupiter on 4 July 2016. JPL manages the Juno mission for the principal investigator, Scott Bolton, of Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio. Juno is part of NASA’s New Frontiers Program, which is managed at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate. Lockheed Martin Space Systems, Denver, built the spacecraft. Caltech in Pasadena, California, manages JPL for NASA.