Jupiter-Bound Spacecraft Makes Key Maneuver
PASADENA, Calif. (AP) - A Jupiter-bound spacecraft successfully fired its engine Thursday in the first of two crucial maneuvers intended to bring it toward Earth for a momentum-gathering fly-by.
NASA officials said the Juno spacecraft, which is about 300 million miles from earth, fired its main engine for just short of 30 minutes.
Along with another engine firing set for next week, the maneuver is intended to direct Juno toward Earth’s orbit for a 2013 fly-by, where it will use the planet’s gravity to accelerate toward the outer solar system.
Launched last year, Juno is zooming toward an encounter with the giant gas planet in 2016.
More than half a dozen spacecraft have visited the solar system’s largest planet since the 1970s, but Juno promises to venture closer for a deeper study into Jupiter’s evolution.
By peering through Jupiter’s dense clouds and mapping its magnetic and gravity fields, scientists hope to better understand how the solar system formed.
The $1.1 billion mission is managed by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.