By Rebekah Williams
Jupiter-bound space probe mysteriously goes into sleep mode for two days
On Wednesday, Oct. 9, NASA’s Juno probe decided to take a brief nap.
While traveling incredibly close to Earth, the spacecraft went into safety mode, much like a computer going to sleep.
It remained as such until 5:12 p.m. (EST) on Friday, Oct. 11.
The system was programmed to enter safety mode if it senses technical problems. By being able to sense something wrong early, the system prevents problems from compounding.
While the cause is still unknown, there is much output from Juno directly preceding the shutdown that has not yet been fully examined.
Juno’s scientific team is analyzing data from the spacecraft’s flyby of Earth in order to find the cause of the slip into safety mode.
Juno was launched on Aug. 5, 2011 with a primary objective of reaching Jupiter.
Juno has already visited Mars.
It traveled back to Earth in order to harness enough speed through gravitational acceleration to reach Jupiter. Colloquially, this method is known as the “slingshot maneuver.”
The flyby brought the spacecraft within 350 miles of Earth and allowed it to gain 16,330 miles per hour as it continues its trajectory towards Jupiter.
It was on this flyby of Earth that the spacecraft entered into safety mode.
However, this shutdown did not affect the mission’s plans, and it appears that no damage was done to Juno.
Only non-critical functions were turned off.
Top scientist on the mission Scott Bolton of the Southwest Research Institute told Universe Today that “the safe mode did not impact the spacecraft’s trajectory one smidgeon!”
Juno is still anticipated to fall into Jupiter’s orbit on July 4, 2016.
The mission is planned to conclude in October 2017, after the spacecraft makes 33 orbits around Jupiter.
Each orbit will take approximately 11 Earth days.
With a name originating from Greco-Roman mythology, Juno is capable of seeing through the clouds surrounding Jupiter.
The scientific objectives of Juno’s mission include determining the oxygen to hydrogen ratio on Jupiter, estimating the giant gassy planet’s core mass and precisely mapping its gravity and magnetic field.
In light of the recent government shutdown, scientists on Juno’s team were some of the few NASA employees who remained at work, un-furloughed.
Those involved with currently-operating spacecrafts, such as the scientists involved with Juno and the six crewmembers on the International Space Station, remained employed.
However, the vast majority of NASA’s employees were furloughed.
While the government shutdown has not affected Juno’s mission, it has affected future missions as plans have been put on hold.
The Johnson Space Center, which is responsible for astronaut training, has arguably felt the impact of this shutdown the most.
Astronauts have to complete intensive training before they can consider being launched into outer space.
That training has been delayed, and the astronauts have been sent home.
The spacecraft Orion is one of the many missions that have been delayed in light of the government shutdown.
The Orion mission, originally planned to be launched in 2017, is planned to take a crew beyond the orbit of Earth, exploring the Moon, asteroids and Mars.
However, the researchers working on this project were furloughed.
Another project, the launching of the MAVEN spacecraft, is waiting for blastoff, but can only wait so long. The spacecraft, designed for exploration of Mars, has a brief window during which it can be launched.
In order to travel in a straight course from Earth to Mars, the spacecraft must be launched by Dec. 7.
If this deadline passes, the mission will be delayed until 2016.
However, Orion and MAVEN are just two examples, as NASA’s research initiatives across the country were halted since the Capitol’s Oct. 1 shutdown.
Hopefully NASA can make a swift recovery from recent furloughs and gain as much as possible from Juno’s journey to and around Jupiter.