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Juno enters the orbit of Jupiter after over four years in space.

A digital representation of Juno’s view as it approached Jupiter

Late in the evening of July 4th, 2016, NASA’s probe Juno finished its journey to Jupiter, the fifth planet in our solar system, and entered orbit around it.

The probe was launched back on August 5th, 2011, as part of the New Frontiers program, which previously sent the New Horizons space probe to Pluto in 2006. The objective of the unmanned mission is to investigate Jupiter and report back with previously unknown information about Jupiter’s physical make up. This information will help scientists understand how Jupiter, and by extension the rest of the planets in the solar system formed. It is planned to spend the next twenty months orbiting Jupiter, completing 37 full orbits, before allowing its orbit to decay and falling into the gas giant. It will be transmitting information to NASA for this entire duration.

The last photo sent from Juno before powering down nonessential instruments to enter orbit.
The last photo sent from Juno before powering down nonessential instruments to enter orbit.

When news of the successful orbit reached NASA the mood was one of jubilation, with administrator Charles Borden saying Independence Day always is something to celebrate, but today we can add to America’s birthday another reason to cheer — Juno is at Jupiter. And what is more American than a NASA mission going boldly where no spacecraft has gone before? With Juno, we will investigate the unknowns of Jupiter’s massive radiation belts to delve deep into not only the planet’s interior, but into how Jupiter was born and how our entire solar system evolved.”

The name of the probe comes from Greco-Roman mythology, specifically a story where Juno, wife of Jupiter, penetrates swirling clouds surrounding him to find his true nature. The Juno probe has the same objective, although in a slightly different context.

One (More) Small Step: Orion Spacecraft Set to Launch

NASA’s-Orion-Spacecraft-2-798x350When NASA launches its brand-new Orion spacecraft later this year, it is also launching what it hopes will be a new era of human spaceflight. It will be a test flight, but the ultimate goal of the Orion project is to send humans further into space than the moon for the first time ever.

The test flight is scheduled for December. NASA will launch Orion from Florida. From there, it will orbit the Earth twice before landing in the Pacific Ocean. Although the point of Orion is to carry astronauts into space, this test will be unmanned. Scientists and engineers want to see how the spacecraft performs, especially Orion’s life support systems and the systems that connect Orion to the rocket.

Image converted using ImgCvtThink of future space launches as having two main parts. Orion is the module that will carry astronauts. Once the astronauts have completed their mission, Orion also has the capacity to safely reenter the atmosphere. The Space Launch System, or SLS, is the system of rockets that will lift it into space. The SLS is still being developed. For the December test, Orion will be launched using a type of rocket that already exists.

The goal of the Orion program is to first capture an asteroid that has been towed into lunar orbit, and eventually take humans to Mars, which NASA projects may happen by 2025.

Orion is a revival of the United States’ largely dormant space program that should see humanity go further than it ever has. So you can bet that when Orion takes off in December, all eyes will be on it.

OrionWhat’s in a Name?
Orion is one of the most famous constellations in the night sky. In the epic Greek adventure by Homer, The Odyssey, Orion was a hunter who, upon his death, was made into a constellation.

Fun Facts:

  • Orion’s first test flight will take it 3600 miles above the Earth, 15 times the distance of the International Space Station.
  • Orion’s test flight will use the Delta IV Heavy, but when Orion is actually used to transport humans, it will change to the more powerful Space Launch System.
  • When Orion reenters the atmosphere, it will be moving at over 20,000 miles per hour, which will cause the exterior of the spacecraft to heat up to 4,000 degrees Fahrenheit.