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In preparation for its arrival in orbit around Jupiter in about a year, engineers for the unmanned probe Juno have revised their planned orbital maneuvers.
Following a detailed analysis by the Juno team, NASA recently approved changes to the mission’s flight plan at Jupiter. Instead of taking 11 days to orbit the planet, Juno will now complete one revolution every 14 days. The difference in orbit period will be accomplished by having Juno execute a slightly shorter engine burn than originally planned.
The revised cadence will allow Juno to build maps of the planet’s magnetic and gravity fields in a way that will provide a global look at the planet earlier in the mission than the original plan. Over successive orbits, Juno will build a virtual web around Jupiter, making its gravity and magnetic field maps as it passes over different longitudes from north to south. The original plan would have required 15 orbits to map these forces globally, with 15 more orbits filling in gaps to make the map complete. In the revised plan, Juno will get very basic mapping coverage in just eight orbits. A new level of detail will be added with each successive doubling of the number, at 16 and 32 orbits.
The change will extend the official mission from 15 to 20 months, though I expect that even this will be extended if the spacecraft’s fuel holds out.