Just weeks after retiring its signature shuttle program, NASA is all set to launch a spacecraft towards Jupiter next week.
NASA's solar-powered craft, Juno which weighs 3,600 kilograms, moved to the launch pad at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Wednesday morning, to go ahead with a new mission to explore Jupiter.
NASA stated that the launch window for the robotic probe to begin its five-year journey to Jupiter opens Aug. 5 and extends through Aug. 26.
Jan Chodas, Juno's project manager at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. stated, "There are a number of remaining pre-launch activities that we still need to focus on, but the team is really excited that the final days of preparation, which we've been anticipating for years, are finally here. We are ready to go."
“What we’re really after is discovering the recipe for making planets, and we’re back at the first step of making sure we have all the ingredients in that recipe.”--Scott Bolton, mission's principal investigator.
Aim of the mission
The aim of the mission is understand the origin of Jupiter and to “unlock the secrets of the early solar system.”
Experts believe, Jupiter was the first planet of the solar system and has perhaps captured many elements and gases that were not used in formation of the sun.
It also has nearly double the mass as the rest of the solar system combined, excluding the sun.
The mission's principal investigator from the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio, Scott Bolton stated, "If we want to go back in time and understand where we came from and how the planets were made, Jupiter holds the secret, because it's got most of the leftovers after the sun formed.
“What we’re really after is discovering the recipe for making planets, and we’re back at the first step of making sure we have all the ingredients in that recipe.”
Closest ever look of Jupiter
Juno will orbit far closer to Jupiter than any other spacecraft in history.
Among the eight previous visiting spacecraft, only Galileo got closer than where Juno is headed and that mission lasted just 58 seconds before the spacecraft disintegrated due to Jupiter's heat and pressure.
After its liftoff, Juno will cruise through the space for five years before it enters the close polar orbit around the giant planet in July 2016.
Juno will come under Jupiter’s radiation belt, thus coming as close as 5,000 kilometres above its cloud-tops.
Bolton disclosed that Juno’s sensitive instruments and electronic equipment have been placed inside a titanium "vault" to protect them from the violent radiation.
During its one year operational life, Juno will make 33 orbits of Jupiter and then intentionally crash into the planet to avoid slamming and contaminating any of the planet's moons.
In its observational year beginning 2016, Juno will send back information pertaining to the planet’s atmosphere, gravity and composition. In addition, it will measure the amount of water in Jupiter’s atmosphere.
"Possibly the single most important measurement Juno is going to make is going to be the global water content of Jupiter," said Juno project scientist Steve Levin, with NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif.