NASA’s Juno probe, which is currently orbiting Jupiter, was initially scheduled to end its mission by crashing into the gas giant’s clouds sometime after July 2018. But now, we will get some more interesting Jupiter pictures as the tennis-court-size spacecraft has got an additional three years of life.
According to NASA, the $1 billion Juno mission will now be alive for at least the next three years to July 2021 to meet its goals. The space agency has announced that the scientific work on the mission will continue through September 2022.
Scott Bolton, Juno’s principal investigator from the Southwest Research Institute, confirmed to Gizmodo that the space agency has approved Juno to continue through 2022 to finish all of its originally planned goals. He added that Juno will require more time to gather the planned scientific measurements because the orbits are longer than planned.
NASA launched Juno into space in 2011 and the spacecraft arrived at Jupiter on July 4, 2016. Since then the spacecraft has been orbiting the planet once every 53.5 days. However, it was in October 2016, that the mission managers planned to fire up the probe’s engines and increase Juno’s orbiting speed to once every 14 days. Unfortunately, the team could not boost Juno’s orbiting speed due to some technical issue.
Notably, the longer-than-planned orbits meant the probe would pass close to the planet fewer times. Extending the mission will help the probe finish mapping Jupiter and also enable the scientists to gather more data.
“Jupiter is really important because its giving you that first step in understanding how planets are made,” Bolton said. “That helps you understand the whole picture of how important Jupiter is to our system and how important giant planets are to the galaxy and the universe.”
The Juno principal investigator further added that the U.S. space agency will model future Jupiter missions after Juno.