After five years of rocketing to Jupiter at 60,000 mph, the fastest object ever created by humans, NASA’s Juno spacecraft, must flawlessly slam on the brakes before its July 4 arrival to the radioactive and bitterly cold Jovian orbit.
The spacecraft is currently closing in at about four miles per second. “And by the time we arrive we’ll be accelerated to 10 times that speed — more than 40 miles per second (nearly 70 kilometers per second) — by the time our rocket engine puts on the brakes to get us into orbit,” ,” said Scott Bolton, principal investigator for Juno from the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio.
The spacecraft will perform a suspenseful Jupiter orbit insertion maneuver — a 35-minute burn of its main engine — which will slow Juno by about 1,200 mph (542 meters per second) so it can be captured into the gas giant’s polar orbit.
Juno will loop Jupiter 37 times during 20 months, skimming to within 3,100 miles (5,000 kilometers) above its swirling cloud tops, NASA said.
Juno will provide answers to ongoing mysteries about Jupiter’s core, composition and magnetic fields, and provide new clues about the origins of the solar system.
The largest planetary inhabitant in the solar system, Jupiter lies in the harshest radiation environment known, and Juno has been specially designed to safely navigate the brand new territory.