NASA is set to celebrate Independence Day with an orbital insertion.
After a nearly 5-year journey, NASA’s Juno spacecraft is scheduled to reach its destination with a planned orbital insertion at Jupiter on July 4. Juno will become only the second spacecraft in history to orbit Jupiter, and it will be the first to conduct a polar orbit of the giant planet.
At 11:18 pm EDT on July 4, 2016, NASA will receive a signal from Juno that the spacecraft has begun a 35-minute engine burn designed to put it into orbit around Jupiter. After only 20 minutes, the spacecraft’s engines will have burned long enough for it to have been captured by Jupiter’s gravity, and by 11:53 pm EDT, if all goes well, NASA will received word from Juno that the spacecraft is in its intended orbit.
These times, however, represent when mission controllers learn about the success, or failure, of their spacecraft’s orbital insertion. Thanks to the great distance between Earth and Jupiter, it takes 48 minutes for Earth to receive a signal from the spacecraft. Juno will have already completed its 35-minute engine burn by the time anyone on Earth learns it even began.
Once Juno has entered orbit around Jupiter, it will proceed on a 20-month primary mission to study the planet’s composition, its core and its magnetic field. Over the course of its mission, Juno will conduct 37 polar orbits, coming as close as 3,100 miles from the planet’s cloud tops. Juno will become the first spacecraft to orbit Jupiter’s poles, providing valuable new insight into the planet.
Juno was launched aboard an Atlas V rocket on August 5, 2011, and will become only the second spacecraft in history to orbit the largest planet in the solar system. Although several spacecraft have conducted flybys of the gas giant throughout history, NASA’s Galileo spacecraft was the only one to actually orbit Jupiter, studying the planet from 1995 until 2003.
Interestingly, this is not the first time a NASA spacecraft has celebrated July 4th with a major achievement. The Mars Pathfinder mission, carrying NASA’s first Mars rover, Sojourner, landed on Mars on July 4, 1997.
NASA will be providing a live stream of Juno’s orbital insertion starting at 10:30 pm EDT on July 4, 2016.
Update: NASA’s Juno spacecraft has successfully entered its intended orbit around Jupiter.