Onwards to Jupiter, Breaking Records


Juno, the next generation Jupiter-bound mission, broke the record for the farthest space-fairing solar-powered craft.

Juno broke the record recently when it traveled over the 493 million miles set previously by the European Space Agency’s Rosetta mission. It has still to reach Jupiter, where light from the Sun is 25 times weaker than on Earth. Having this in mind, engineers gave Juno, a 100% solar power spacecraft, three huge solar panel arrays, each one 27 feet long. The panels have a total surface area of 261 square feet and are composed of nearly 19,000 individual cells. That makes it the largest solar panel array ever used in a spacecraft. The maximum energy output around Jupiter will be of only 486 watts, and that will come down to about 420 watts by the end of the mission in 2018, as radiation damages the panels.

Figure 1. Illustration of the Juno spacecraft. Credit: NASA/JPL

Jupiter and its 67 known moons are by all accounts a fascinating destination. Worlds full of water ice, volcanic eruptions, or subterranean seas, ephemeral rings, immense magnetic fields, plasma exchanges and captured asteroids.

Man has sent just a handful of robotic missions to the largest planet in the solar system, due to distances and therefore costs. Jupiter is, on average, five times farther away from the Sun than Earth. At their closest approach, our planet and Jupiter are still 365 million miles apart (601 million at their farthest).

The Pioneer 10 (1973) and 11 (1974) missions, together with Voyager 1 and 2 (1979), Ulysses (1992 and 2004), Cassini (2000) and New Horizons (2007) made quick flybys at thousands of miles per hour which gathered a small treasure of information. The Galileo mission has been the only one that stayed in orbit around Jupiter, from 1995 to 2003, giving us —> Read More