If you're sad about the recent retiring of NASA's shuttle program, here's news that should pick your spirits up: brand new photos of NASA's Juno spacecraft lifting off for deep space! NASA's solar-powered Juno spacecraft took off this morning and began the longest solar-powered trip ever taken. Even cooler, one hour after launch, the spacecraft with let loose its three giant solar sails -- each measuring close to nine feet by thirty feet -- which will be its only source of power on its five year journey to Jupiter as well as the planned one year of exploration after it arrives. At the start of the journey, the 19,000 solar cells on Juno's sails will generate 14 kilowatts of energy but as it drifts closer to its final destination that output will drop to just 400 watts.
“We’re about to start our journey to Jupiter to unlock the secrets of the early solar system,” said Scott Bolton, the mission’s principal investigator from the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio. “After eight years of development, the spacecraft is ready for its important mission.” Juno’s eight instruments are set to record information about Jupiter’s interior, atmosphere and aurora. This information will help NASA scientists understand how the solar system was formed. When Juno reaches Jupiter it will be a whopping 507 million miles from the sun, well past the European Space Agency’s Rosetta Spacecraft which will reach 492 million miles from the sun (Rosetta is set to reach that goal next year).
Juno’s launch window lasted until August 26th but NASA saw a good chance of the craft taking the leap this morning. The launch was shown live on NASA’s live stream located on their website. The rocket had been letting out a steady stream of steam all morning in preparation for its big moment, and we were excited to see this feat of renewable energy engineering set out on a history-making journey. The spacecraft is expected to reach Jupiter by 2016 to commence its investigation of the gas giant.