The Juno mission to Jupiter has been extended until September 2025 – or as long as the spacecraft can continue to operate around Jupiter.
While Juno has so far focused only on the giant planet, the mission’s expansion will include observations of Jupiter’s rings and large moons, with targeted observations and close flights planned for the moons Ganymede, Europa and Io.
These will be the first close flights of these moons since the Galileo mission in 1995-2003.
“One of the exciting things about the mission [extension]- said Scott Bolton, Juno’s chief researcher, in September 2020 at a meeting of the NASA External Planets Advisory Group, ̵
Juno discovered the internal structure of Jupiter, the magnetic field and the magnetosphere and found that its atmospheric dynamics are much more complex than scientists have previously thought. The camera on board, JunoCam, provides a stunning view of the world of the gas giant. Lovers of space imagery expect that JunoCam’s views of the Galilean moons should be no more spectacular. Juno took distant images of the moon Ganymede in 2020.
Juno arrived in Jupiter in July 2016 and the mission was originally scheduled to end in February 2018 due to how close the spacecraft would be to Jupiter and its radiation-laden environment. The harsh “working conditions” were expected to eventually make the spacecraft inoperable.
But the mission plan was changed when problems arose with the spacecraft’s main engine shortly after Juno’s arrival in Jupiter. Initially, the spacecraft would have a close 14-day orbit around the planet. But at the end of 2016, the heads of missions chose not to perform a final rocket burn for this orbit due to uncertainty in the reliability of the engine.
Instead, a revised plan put Juno in 53-day orbit. This meant that the whole mission was running at a slower scientific pace. However, Bolton said the slower pace was a “saving grace,” Juno was exposed to less radiation, allowing the mission to work longer than originally planned.
“I think the lesson is that we were flexible, and that’s good in missions,” Bolton said in September. “So when designing a mission, try to be flexible because you don’t know what curve the ball will throw at you.”
NASA also extended the InSight mission to Mars for another two years, lasting until December 2022. The spacecraft and the InSight team deployed and operated their high-sensitivity seismometer, measuring Marsquakes and collecting data on strong tectonic activity on the Red Planet, as well as increasing our knowledge of atmospheric dynamics, the magnetic field and the internal structure of the planet.
An independent review panel recommended the two extensions of the mission to NASA.
“The Senior Review confirmed that these two planetary science missions are likely to continue to bring new discoveries and raise new questions about our solar system,” said Lori Glaze, director of the planetary science division at NASA’s Washington headquarters. “I thank the members of the Senior Review Panel for their comprehensive analysis, and I also thank the mission teams, who will now continue to provide exciting opportunities to improve our understanding of the dynamic science of Jupiter and Mars.”
NASA says the expanded missions are using large investments in those missions, allowing scientific operations to continue at a cost far below the development of a new mission. “In some cases, extensions allow missions to continue to acquire valuable long-term datasets, while in other cases they allow missions to visit new targets with entirely new scientific purposes,” NASA said in a statement.
Caption: Civil scientist Kevin M. Gill created this image using data from JunoCam’s image of the spacecraft. Credits: NASA / JPL-Caltech / Kevin Gill.