November 25, 2008

It’s a go for Jupiter exploration

The U.S. space program said it is undertaking an in-depth exploration to Jupiter.

The Juno mission will be the first project in which a spacecraft is in a polar orbit around the solar system's largest planet to understand its formation, evolution and structure, NASA officials said.

Jupiter is the archetype of giant planets in our solar system and formed very early, capturing most of the material left after the sun formed, said Scott Bolton, Juno principal investigator from the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio. Unlike Earth, Jupiter's giant mass allowed it to hold onto its original composition, providing us with a way of tracing our solar system's history.

The spacecraft is scheduled to launch from Florida in August 2011, and is expected to reach Jupiter in 2016, the agency said. The spacecraft is to orbit Jupiter 32 times about 3,000 miles over the planet's cloud tops for about one year.

The mission will be the first solar-powered spacecraft designed to operate despite the great distance from the sun, Bolton said.

Jupiter is more than (400 million miles) from the sun or five times further than Earth, Bolton said. Juno is engineered to be extremely energy efficient.