This amazing probe is on its way to Jupiter for a very important mission.
NASA’s Juno spacecraft has just shattered an incredible record.
At 493 million miles from the sun, it has gone the farthest of any solar-powered spacecraft ever, and it still has a lot more work to do, according to a Christian Science Monitor report.
Juno surpassed Europe’s Rosetta spacecraft, which was launched in 2004 and went 492 million miles to send the Philae lander down to a passing comet. And Juno isn’t done yet: it still plans to travel another 30 million more miles, setting the bar for future solar-powered spacecraft.
Juno is also one of just nine spacecraft to have gone that far out, solar powered or not. The other eight had to use nuclear power sources for fuel.
Still, there are limits to what solar-powered spacecraft can do. After all, once you get too far from the sun, there’s no way to gather more fuel. Juno is going about as far as possible for such a spacecraft.
The spacecraft was launched back in 2011, and was equipped with three 30-foot solar array and 18,000 solar cells. It generated 14 kilowatts of electricity at Earth’s distance from the sun, which declined to about 25 times less than that once it reached Jupiter.
“Juno is all about pushing the edge of technology to help us learn about our origins,” Scott Bolton, Juno principal investigator at the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio, said in a statement. “We use every known technique to see through Jupiter’s clouds and reveal the secrets Jupiter holds of our solar system’s early history. It just seems right that the sun is helping us learn about the origin of Jupiter and the other planets that orbit it.”
Rick Nybakken, Juno’s project manager from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., added in the statement that, “Jupiter is five times farther from the sun than Earth, and the sunlight that reaches that far out packs 25 times less punch. While our massive solar arrays will be generating only 500 watts when we are at Jupiter, Juno is very efficiently designed, and it will be more than enough to get the job done.”.