NASA’s Juno Spacecraft, designed to study Jupiter’s magnetic field to help us better understand the planet and solar system, will be burning its main engine to circularize its orbit around the gas giant later today:
At about 12:15 pm PDT today (3:15 p.m. EDT), mission controllers will transmit command product “ji4040” into deep space, to transition the solar-powered Juno spacecraft into autopilot. It will take nearly 48 minutes for the signal to cover the 534-million-mile (860-million-kilometer) distance between the Deep Space Network Antenna in Goldstone, California, to the Juno spacecraft. While sequence ji4040 is only one of four command products sent up to the spacecraft that day, it holds a special place in the hearts of the Juno mission team.
“Ji4040 contains the command that starts the Jupiter Orbit insertion sequence,” said Ed Hirst, mission manager of Juno from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. “As soon as it initiates — which should be in less than a second — Juno will send us data that the command sequence has started.”
When the sequence kicks in, the spacecraft will begin running the software program tailored to carry the solar-powered, basketball court-sized spacecraft through the 35-minute burn that will place it in orbit around Jupiter.
The spacecraft has been on its way since August 2011 and will be just the second spacecraft to ever orbit our solar system’s largest planet. The first was Galileo, which orbited from 1995 to 2003.