Juno flyby: NASA flies spacecraft closest ever to Jupiter

Posted Aug 29, 2016 by Marcus Hondro
NASA has just flown a spacecraft closer to the windswept, gaseous planet of Jupiter than one has ever gone before. The Juno spacecraft is already sending back images from its successful flyby.
Juno  an unmanned NASA spacecraft  should plunge into Jupiter's poisonous atmosphere to begin o...
Juno, an unmanned NASA spacecraft, should plunge into Jupiter's poisonous atmosphere to begin orbiting for a period of almost two years
Robyn Beck, AFP
The Jupiter flyby
Juno, one of NASA's most ambitious projects, was launched a little over five years ago on August 5, 2011. Using the Earth's gravity to 'slingshot' itself toward Jupiter, Juno made it into the orbit of the 'gas giant' on July 5 and has been within 2,600 miles of the planet, about the distance between L.A. and New York.
The probe has now finished its first orbital flyby and the ship is scheduled to do 36 more. The photos sent back to Earth thus far were taken when Juno was much farther from Jupiter so there are more awe-inspiring photos to come.
Depending on where the planets are in their orbits, Jupiter, the largest planet in our solar system, is between 365 million miles (588 million km) to 600 million miles (968 million km) from the Earth. So it takes a few days for photographic images to reach NASA scientists.
Juno's 20-month Jupiter mission aims to answer questions about the massive planet
Juno's 20-month Jupiter mission aims to answer questions about the massive planet
Juno to disintegrate
When Juno has completed its 37th orbit and fulfilled its mission it will be sent into a controlled deorbit and crash into Jupiter's atmosphere and disintegrate. That is because it will be exposed to radiation while orbiting Jupiter's magnetosphere and could be subject to future failures.
What that means is that those failures could cause it to collide with one of Jupiter's moons. NASA's Planetary Protection Guidelines does not allow it to leave behind such space debris, nor to possibly contaminate a moon, and so disintegrating Juno will be the unfortunate outcome of the mission.
The 37 orbits will take place over a period of 20 months and Juno will enter deorbit and disintegrate over five-and-a-half days in February of 2018.
NASA itself was launched in 1958 by an act of the U.S. Congress and its mission is to explore both space and aeronautics. The Juno project is one of more than 100 missions, manned and unmanned, launched by NASA since it's inception.