NASA’s Juno spacecraft is scheduled to enter into orbit around JupiterMonday night (July 4), ending its nearly five-year trek to the solar system’s biggest planet.
The key event Monday is a 35-minute engine burn at 11:18 p.m. EDT (0318 GMT on Tuesday), which is designed to slow Juno down enough to be captured by Jupiter’s powerful gravity.
If something goes seriously wrong with this burn, the solar-powered Juno will zoom right past the gas giant, and the science goals of the $1.1 billion mission — which include mapping the gravitational and magnetic fields of Jupiter, and characterizing its internal structure — will go unachieved. [Photos: NASA’s Juno Mission to Jupiter]
Here’s a primer on how Juno’s highly anticipated Jupiter arrival should go down Monday night, along with a few notes about what to expect from the mission over the longer term. (Note: All times below are “Earth-receive times” — i.e., when confirmation that maneuvers occurred will be received by Juno’s handlers in mission control. It currently takes 48 minutes for light to travel from Jupiter to Earth, so the actual maneuvers happen 48 minutes before Earth-receive time.)
9:16 p.m. EDT (0116 GMT) Monday: Juno begins slowly turning away from the sun and toward its orbit-insertion orientation. Another, faster turn toward this orientation begins at 10:28 p.m. EDT (0228 GMT). (These maneuvers and all other aspects of the orbital-insertion plan are pre-programmed; the spacecraft has been on autopilot since June 30.)
Sorry I took so long to comment — but here’s another xkcd cartoon on this subject: