WASHINGTON: Juno, NASA’s first solar-powered spacecraft to Jupiter has demolished the record and become mankind’s most distant solar-powered envoy. Rocketed from the Earth in 2011 with the objective to study Jupiter from an elliptical and polar orbit, Juno accomplished the benchmark on Wednesday when it was approximately 793 million km away from the Sun.
In a NASA statement, Scott Bolton, Juno principal investigator at the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio said “Juno is all about pushing the edge of technology to help us learn about our origins.” On 4th July this year, The Juno spacecraft will reach Jupiter. The spacecraft will recurrently dive between Jupiter and its intense belts of charged particle radiation, coming only 5,000 km from the cloud tops at closest approach. “We use every known technique to see through Jupiter’s clouds and reveal the secrets Jupiter holds of our solar system’s early history. It just seems right that the Sun is helping us learn about the origin of Jupiter and the other planets that orbit it,” Bolton explained.
Juno is the first of its kind solar-powered spacecraft constructed to function at such a considerable distance from the Sun. Juno the four ton spacecraft ferries three 30-foot-long solar arrays gilded with 18,698 solar cells. Rick Nybakken, Juno’s project manager from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory added that “Jupiter is five times farther from the Sun than Earth, and the sunlight that reaches that far out packs 25 times less punch.” He futher revealed “While our massive solar arrays will be generating only 500 watts when we are at Jupiter, Juno is very efficiently designed, and it will be more than enough to get the job done.”
Solar power is conceivable on Juno only because of enhanced solar-cell capability and energy-efficient instruments. Juno is constructed in a way that it avoids Jupiter’s shadow, and a polar orbit which curtails the total radiation. Juno spacecraft will orbit the Jovian world 33 times over the next year. During the flybys, The spacecraft will investigate beneath the camouflaged cloud cover of Jupiter and learn Jupiter’s aurorae to know and analyse more about the planet’s origins, structure, atmosphere and magnetosphere.
The former record-holder was the Rosetta spacecraft of European Space Agency whose orbit during its passage to the comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimeko. It reached out at the 792 million km landmark in October 2012. Prior to Juno spacecraft, eight other spacecrafts have navigated the cold, harsh underlit phenomenon of fathomless space as far out as Jupiter but all have made use of nuclear power sources to accomplish their job.