Juno, the NASA-sent probe that has been orbiting Jupiter, has suffered a course adjustment after reported engine problems caused a postponement in the craft’s original flight plan.
Juno is the first solar-powered spacecraft to reach Jupiter, as all other previous crafts were driven by nuclear power and encountered difficulties in reaching the gas giant as the plant is situated at quite a distance from the Sun.
The probe, which is to complete a 36 full set of orbit flights around Jupiter before completing its mission, has already yielded useful data after its first close encounter with the planet.
August 27, marked the closest approach point, the first of more to come, between the probe and the gas giant. As all of its instruments were trained towards it, Juno captured Jupiter’s first ever reports of a southern aurora, incredibly violent storms, and unnerving transmissions.
The first chance to approach the planet came after a two months orbiting period, and the PRM should have taken place during its second flyby, which will be on October 19 but will most likely be delayed and take place on December 11. The reasons for the delay come from the craft’s main engine.
According to the flight plan, Juno should have fired up its main rocket this Wednesday, a maneuver which would have changed its orbital period to just 14 days, as opposed to the 53 that it will most likely still orbit.
As specialists set to verify the probe’s fuel pressurization system with the help of the PRM (period reduction maneuver) a technical issue determined a postponement in the original plan.
According to Rick project manager, Rick Nybakken, two of the helium valves failed to operate according to plan. As the check valves are two of the main engine’s most important parts, researchers decided to postpone the firing in order to discover the cause of the issue.
The problem posed by the valves comes in the form of their response delay, as instead of opening in a matter of seconds, the components needed several minutes in order to operate.
Although this wouldn’t seem such a big issue, the mission scientists have decided to investigate the cause of the malfunction before risking to fire up the probe’s main engine.
As such, Juno’s main engine burn has been delayed with at least this one orbit, and will probably get its next chance during the December flyby as it is most useful when the probe is closest to Jupiter.
Even if unplanned, the postponement will offer Juno the chance to gather new data on Jupiter as the craft’s instruments, most of which were supposed to be shut down for the PRM, will now continue collecting and transmitting information.
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