In a bid to probe deep into the Jupiter’s clouds to find out what the planet is made of, NASA is all set for their mission to the planet this week. Significant about the launch is that the Juno spacecraft will make history by being the most distant space probe to use solar panels as its primary source of electricity.
The decision charts a new course for deep space missions that traditionally used a radioactive battery, and it stands to prove the viability of solar technology even when the sun is 5 times further away than it is from our home planet.
The mission was originally set to launch in 2009, but financial restraints at NASA bumped it to 2011. Finances were also a major contributing factor to the decision to use high-tech gallium arsinide solar cells rather than a traditional radioisotope thermoelectric generator that uses decaying Plutonium 238 to create electricity.
The probe will take 5 years to get to Jupiter, which is 5 AUs from the Sun. At this distance, the solar cells will leave the spacecraft with 420 watts of electricity to run on.
Juno will orbit Jupiter for one year making 33 elliptical orbits to cover the entire planet’s surface, sometime coming closer than 3,000 miles.
Three wings of solar panels sprout from the craft, covering 60 square meters. They will produce 15 kW of power at 1 AU (Astronomic Unit) – the measurement of the distance from the Earth to the Sun.
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