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Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Largest interplanetary probe gets ready for liftoff

Friday could set the date for space history as the largest interplanetary probe is prepared to blastoff from Cape Canaveral, Florida to Jupiter where its mission is to uncover unanswered questions about the formation of the solar system as well as the icy planet itself.

Although there is a launch window that is open until August 26th, the Juno space probe could liftoff as early as 8:34 a.m. Pacific time this Friday. 

The spaceship will be shot into a polar orbit around Jupiter and will use its high-tech sensors to plumb the dangerously dense depths of the atmosphere, measure water content, and attempt to determine if the planet has a solid core or not. Juno also includes infrared, ultraviolet and gravitational instruments, and colored cameras to capture never-before seen images of the mysterious planet.

"We want to try to understand Jupiter formed, and its evolution, and how it has changed over the years." Muñoz Fernandez, payload systems and instrument operations engineer for the Juno project at the Jet Propulsion Lab said. The Juno spaceship will also break ground as it will be the first mission to outer planets to be run exclusively on giant solar panels that span 66 feet long. 

If launched on time Juno will making more than 30 orbits over the course of one year and should arrive at the strange planet in 2016.

According to Fernandez there are differing theories about the formation of both Jupiter and the solar system that Juno could possibly resolve. "The instruments will either validate those theories, or we'll come up with something totally new," she said. "Juno is going to characterize Jupiter's atmosphere to a level of accuracy never done before."  

"If we understand how Jupiter formed and evolved, it will give us so many clues about the origin and formation of the whole solar system," Fernandez said. "It will give us a lot of hints about how Earth formed." And "It's going to acquire very exciting data."


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