Published: 2013-10-08 16:31:00
Updated: 2013-10-08 16:51:16
Posted October 8, 2013
By Tony Rice
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.