It’s been awhile since we checked in with Juno, the NASA space probe currently orbiting Jupiter. So Juno, how’s the mission going?
Uh-oh. That doesn’t sound good. What happened?
Okay, here’s a quick timeline of events:
- On July 4, 2016, Juno entered orbit of Jupiter. The main engine worked flawlessly at the time.
- On August 27, 2016, Juno performed its first science pass of Jupiter. All its instruments appeared to be in working order.
- On October 19, 2016, Juno was supposed to shorten its orbital period from 53 days to 14 days, but there was a problem with the main engine. Plan B was to just do another science pass, but then there was a problem with the main computer.
According to this article from Spaceflight 101, we now know what happened with the computer, and it sounds like it’ll be a fairly easy fix. The malfunction was caused by an instrument called JIRAM. Continuing with our timeline:
- On December 11, 2016, Juno performed another science pass, this time with JIRAM switched off. All the other science instruments seem to be in working order, and a software patch for JIRAM will be uploaded soon.
- Coming February 2, 2017, Juno will approach Jupiter again. This will likely be another science pass, since NASA still doesn’t know what’s wrong with the main engine.
The main engine is turning out to be the real problem. According to a press release from October, some pressure valves that should have opened in a matter of seconds took several minutes to open. Until NASA figures out why that’s happening, they’re going to leave Juno’s orbit alone.
Juno can still perform its mission in its current 53-day orbit; it’ll just take longer. We’re looking at five years rather than the original year-and-a-half. That screws up the original science observation calendar, and the prolonged exposure to Jupiter’s intense magnetic field might lead to more computer glitches in the future.