Five years and a billion miles later, NASA’s Juno spacecraft entered Jupiter’s orbit Monday night, giving the U.S. the closest access to the planet yet.
The 8,000-pound rotating ship will allow NASA to measure important data from just 3,100 miles above its cloud tops, NASA officials said in a statement. From there, NASA should be able to take the highest resolution pictures of Jupiter to date.
Both the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, and the Lockheed Martin Juno operations center in Denver closely monitored the ship all night to prepare for a 35-minute “burn” of Juno’s engine to slow down the ship by over 1,000 mph. Once it reached 130,000 mph, the ship could optimally slide into Jupiter’s orbital, where NASA turned the ship to face the sun so its 18,698 solar cells could power the ship, according to the mission’s fact sheet.
Launched in August 2011, Juno navigated 1.74-billion miles and through an asteroid belt to reach Jupiter. Not only will it have to deal with the deadly radioactive conditions of the planet’s atmosphere, but the ship is so far away from Earth that it can only send brief information about its status for now. Transmission of other detailed data will take much longer, officials said.
“Jupiter orbit insertion was a big step and the most challenging remaining in our mission plan, but there are others that have to occur before we can give the science team members the mission they are looking for,” JPL’s Juno Project Manager Rick Nybakken said in a statement.
Juno will spend a year circling around the planet 37 times, measuring the planet’s atmosphere, characteristics and magnetic fields, including its auroras, and looking for water in the deep atmosphere. Juno is also the first spacecraft to fly 3-D printed titanium parts.
“So tonight through tones Juno sang to us, and it was a song of perfection,” Nybakken said during a briefing after the orbital insertion. “After a 1.7 billion mile journey, we hit our burn targets within one second, on a target that was just tens of kilometers large. Isn’t that incredible, and that’s how good our team is, and that’s how well Juno performed tonight.”
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