NASA’s Juno Spacecraft Malfunction: Dangers and Opportunities
Juno spacecraft malfunction happened on Sunday, when NASA specialists tried to execute the “period reduction maneuver” or PRM to test the technologies responsible for fuel pressurization. The original plan was to decrease the time Juno spends on one orbit from 53 to 14 days by boosting the speed due to firing a rocket that’s attached to the device. The procedures had to be executed on Wednesday, but after the spacecraft malfunction the boost was postponed at least till December.
According to the representative of NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Juno has helium valves that must operate almost instantaneously after certain commands. This time, according to telemetry results, they operated only after several minutes. This issue has to be researched deeply not to put the mission in danger.
The experts working on the mission have recommended to postpone the main engine rocket fire for one orbit or more, which means that the final decision on PRM has to be made till the 11th of December. The situation will be more clear after the origin of the problem will be learnt and researched.
Such a delay is caused by two reasons. The first and main one is that in order to boost and alter the orbit around the gas-giant, Juno has to be at the closest spot to the planet. Such a flyby happens once per orbit. It means that if PRM isn’t initiated on the 19th of October, the team that works on Juno project has to wait till the next closest flyby that will take place approximately on the 11th of December.
The second reason is that the experts from NASA need time to learn more about the problem and all possible solutions for it. So even if Juno could alternate its orbit on any day, the people behind the machine wouldn’t do that not being sure all systems are functional.
The spacecraft malfunction may be dangerous if ignored, but for now there’s no serious hazards. All instruments are functioning, and the time Juno takes to orbit Jupiter doesn’t play a big role in the successful execution of the mission. While it was planned to cease the activities of many instruments on the 19th of October, after all the changes Juno will be fully functional for longer time, collecting data and images.
Regarding potential dangers for the mission, one of the biggest is the radiation emitted from Jupiter that affects the spacecraft. However, according to the scientists, Juno and its devices are resilient enough to overcome radioactive emissions. This gives the experts at least one more orbit to solve all the troubles and make sure this malfunction isn’t a part of a bigger problem.
Juno became the first spacecraft to ever come really close to the gas-giant. On the 27th of August it made the flyby being only 2,600 miles above the planet. The craft is also significant as it uses only solar power to move, which was a serious trouble for previous projects. The current mission is going to last for 36 orbits, but the scientists don’t know how much time this will take, considering the boost delay.