NASA: Solar-powered Juno spacecraft enters Jupiter orbit

Posted at 5:03 AM, Jul 05, 2016
and last updated 2016-07-05 10:09:37-04

A solar-powered spacecraft is circling Jupiter on a mission to map the giant planet from the inside out.

NASA mission control received a radio signal Monday night from the Juno spacecraft confirming that it's in orbit around the biggest planet in the solar system.

The research craft was engineered and developed at Littleton-based Lockheed Martin. The aerospace company built Juno for NASA to study the clouds and the core of the largest planet in the solar system.

"The last time we sent a spacecraft near Jupiter, it was 10 years ago. This spacecraft is going to go a lot closer to Jupiter's clouds, and to the planet itself," said Matt Kramer, communications director for Lockheed Martin.

Because Juno's camera and other instruments were turned off during the highly anticipated arrival, there won't be pictures of the key moment.

The trip took nearly five years and 1.8 billion miles. Juno is the first spacecraft to venture so far from Earth powered by the sun.

It'll spend 20 months circling Jupiter's poles, peering through thick clouds and studying the planet's gravity, magnetic fields, interior structure and deep atmosphere.

The spacecraft is about the size of a basketball court and has three large solar panels, providing about five light bulbs worth of electricity. Juno was designed to operate with that little power.

Jupiter is the solar system’s largest planet, more than two-and-a-half times as massive as all of the other planets combined.

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