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Jupiter-bound probe swings by

Posted October 8, 2013

Tony Rice and Juno hours before launch.

The Jupiter-bound Juno probe will make a final encounter with Earth Wednesday before heading off to study our solar system's largest planet. Juno's flight plan takes it beyond the orbit of Mars and then back to its home planet to receive the gravity assist needed to send it on its way to Jupiter. At 3:21 pm EDT, Juno will pass within 347 miles above the Eastern Cape province of South Africa.

I watched Juno launch back in August 2011 from the press site at the Kennedy Space Center. Even from four miles away, you could feel the power of the Atlas V rocket in your chest. But that is not enough to get to Jupiter. The rest of energy will be provided by Earth this week, an additional 16,330 mph in speed.

Like other NASA and related teams operating spacecraft in critical phases of their missions, Juno's operations are exempt from the federal government shutdown. The Deep Space Network which receives image and other data from active spacecraft also remains operational during the shutdown. However, you won't see any press releases on Juno or any other NASA mission until the shutdown is resolved.

The spacecraft will be below the horizon for us here in North Carolina, but astronomers in South America, Africa and Asia are making preparations to spot it as it swings by.

The team operating the spacecraft is also preparing to use on-board cameras to capture unique images of Earth and the moon. The Junocam is nestled between the trio of school-bus-sized solar array. It captures long, skinny images as it tumbles through space. The mission team plans to post the raw images captured Wednesday on their website soon after they are received.


Tony Rice is a volunteer in the NASA/JPL Solar System Ambassador program and software engineer at Cisco Systems. You can follow him on twitter @rtphokie.

4 Comments

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  • Lightfoot3 Oct 9, 2013

    "Around the earth? I thought it had to go around the sun, this can't be right, and I've never heard of this mission before." - chrislund


    While you might not have heard of this particular mission, probes have been using "gravity assist" for decades. The most famous case was probably the Voyager missions. A handful of missions have used the Earth.

  • Tony Rice Oct 8, 2013

    JPL has a fun page counting down until the Juno pass, give her a wave as she passes by tomorrow afternoon: http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/hijuno/

  • Tony Rice Oct 8, 2013

    Chris, take a look at the Juno spacecraft trajectory animation linked above, Juno, the Earth, and Jupiter are going around the sun. Tomorrow's pass will take advantage of the Earth's gravity to give Juno the boost it needs to head out to Jupiter.

  • chrislund Oct 8, 2013

    Around the earth? I thought it had to go around the sun, this can't be right, and I've never heard of this mission before.