Juno

NASA’s Juno Spacecraft launched from Cape Canaveral August 5th 2011, beginning its long journey to the mighty gas giant Jupiter with the aim to reveal and understand the formation and evolution of the planet. Juno was equipped with many scientific instruments to investigate the existence of a rocky inner core, precisely map Jupiter’s gravitational and magnetic field, and observe Jupiter’s spectacular aurora. At 20 meters in diameter Juno was built to withstand the harsh environment, extreme temperatures, and radiation of space. Getting to Jupiter however is not a straightforward task; Juno’s initial trajectory took it past Mars, then performed two deep space manoeuvres bringing it back to Earth for gravity assist giving it a boost on its journey to Jupiter. This flyby of Earth took place in October 2013 two years after it first launched. Juno then entered a phase called “outer cruise” and placed in safe mode shutting down all non-essential systems for the lengthy voyage. 

July 2016 five years after launching, Juno finally approached its destination travelling at a speed of 129,000 mph,; the highest speed of any man-made object in history. To slow down Juno fired its engine and carried out a manoeuvre placing it in an elliptical orbit known as a Perijove. Due to this elliptical orbit Juno can fly extremely close to the atmosphere of Jupiter, sometimes getting as close as 3100 miles above the cloud tops collecting data and capturing magnificent images of Jupiter’s famous swirling brown clouds.

For the last four years Juno has been orbiting the planet and collecting information and beaming back images and scientific data.  As of July 25, Juno has completed Perijove 28 of Jupiter. When Junos mission ends in July 2021 Juno will have completed Perijove 35 and NASA intends to deorbit Juno into Jupiter’s atmosphere; this is to ensure that the spacecraft will disintegrate eliminating space debris and contamination of Jupiter’s moons.

Artist’s rendering showing NASA’s Juno spacecraft. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
NASA image: image taken by the Juno Spacecraft if Jupiter swirling clouds

BepiColoumbo

BepiColoumbo is Europe’s first mission to Mercury and is a joint mission by the European Space Agency (ESA) and Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) and is comprised of two orbiters. The main craft built by ESA, the Mercury Planetary Orbiter (MPO), will study the surface and internal composition of Mercury. JAXA provided the Mercury Magnetospheric Orbiter (MMO) and its job is to study Mercury’s magnet field.  

Launched in October it is currently on route to Mercury which will take seven long years before arriving in December 2025, and expected to be operational for one year. Mercury is the least explored of the inner rocky planets and BepiColombo will be the second mission to ever orbit Mercury, after NASA’s Messenger in 2011. Sending the BepiColombo spacecraft to Mercury has been a massive challenge for the space agencies due to Mercury proximity to the Sun – plus once it arrives it will be exposed to temperature as high as 350 degrees! BepiColombo has successfully completed a flyby of Earth back in April and its next milestone will be a flyby of Venus in October 2020 and then again in August 2021.

Image credit: ESA BepiColombo on its fly by of Earth April 10th 2020

Cassini – Huygens

The Cassini Spacecraft left Earth in October 1997 starting its seven year journey and becoming the first satellite to ever orbit Saturn in 2004. Cassini was the first spacecraft sent to Saturn to study the planet, its ring system and moons more extensively, as all previous missions only encountered Saturn briefly. Cassini carried a sleeping passenger, and in late December 2004 a probe called Huygens built by ESA successfully detected from Cassini and made its way to the surface of Titan, the largest moon of Saturn. The Huygens probe named after Titans discoverer Christian Huygens was the first spacecraft in history to land in the outer Solar System and the farthest from Earth. The Huygens probe gave us a new insight into Titan revealing it to be one of the most Earth like worlds that we have encountered, covered in rivers, lakes and seas of methane and covered in a thick, nitrogen-rich atmosphere.  After 20 years in space and 13 of the exploring Saturn the Cassini spacecraft exhausted it fuel supply in 2017 and plunged into Saturn’s atmosphere and disintegrated. In its lifetime the Cassini spacecraft travelled a total of 4.9 billion miles, orbited Saturn 294 times and took over 455,048 images.

NASA credit: Images taken on Oct. 28, 2016, one of the last images taken by Cassini of the planet and its rings
NASA credit: The surface of Titan captured by Huygens probe

Solar Orbiter

Developed by the European Space Agency (ESA) the Solar Orbiter is the most complex scientific laboratory to be sent to the Sun.  The aim of the mission is to explore the Sun’s inner regions, gather data on the Sun surface and solar winds, and specifically its polar regions to better understand the magnetic cycle of the Sun. Launched from Cape Canaveral in February 2020, the mission is expected to last 7 years. Onboard there is a total of 10 instruments and 27 telescopes and sensors. In June of this year Solar Orbiter spacecraft made its first approach coming with 77 million kilometres of the Sun, never before has a camera been this close to the Sun. Solar Orbiter captured spectacular images and revealing never before seen flashes of light much smaller than the large solar flares that we know, with scientist now referring to them as campfires. The Solar Orbiter will attempt to provide the first images of the Sun’s pole, an area never seen before by humans. At its closest distance to the Sun the Solar Orbiter will comes as closer as 42 million kilometres away.

Image Credit: Solar Orbiter/EUI team (ESA & NASA): Arrow points to the ‘camp fire’ discovery

Starlink

Private aerospace company SpaceX marked the beginning of a new venture in May 2018 when Falcon 9 rocket blasted off from Florida filled with 60 satellites. The new project called Starlink aims to provide high performance low-cost internet access across the globe reaching some of the most remote places in the world. The CEO of SpaceX Elon Musk is trying to revolutionize the internet by creating a global communications system that will cover the Earth in Wi-Fi by building this innovative satellite internet constellation known as Starlink. This initial launch of 60 satellites is just the first of many to come as SpaceX has 12,000 satellites planned to launch in the next 10 years at a cost of billions.  As of October 2020, 715 have successful made it to low Earth orbit. The satellites are designed to be compact for launching and weigh approximately 260kg. They will use lasers to communicate with each other and have a life span of about 5 years, burning up in the Earth’s atmosphere once inoperable. So, let’s see what the next few years brings SpaceX and its new project Starlink.

Image Credit: SpaceX. 60 Starlink satellites before they were deployed into orbit 2018

Which of these satellites impressed you the most?!


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