Juno Spacecraft Suddenly Enters Safe Mode As It Orbits Jupiter

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This artist's rendering shows NASA's Juno spacecraft making one of its close passes over Jupiter. Credit: NASA

NASA’s Juno spacecraft entered safe mode Tuesday just hours before a close approach to the giant planet.

The space agency revealed that its Jupiter orbiter temporarily entered into ‘safe mode’ after losing access to the main onboard computer and scientific instruments.

Scientists say that problems with the robotic spacecraft will not affect their planned studies of Jupiter, it will just slow things down.

NASA operated spacecraft seem to to be experiencing bad luck recently.

Earlier in the week the Schiaparelli probe was mysteriously lost on Mars.

Ancient Code reports:

“At the time safe mode was entered, the spacecraft was more than 13 hours from its closest approach to Jupiter,” said Rick Nybakken, Juno project manager from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif.

“We were still quite a ways from the planet’s more intense radiation belts and magnetic fields. The spacecraft is healthy, and we are working our standard recovery procedure.”

NASA is unsure what exactly caused the Juno spacecraft to enter safe mode. During a press conference, principal investigator Scott Bolton said the vehicle had “detected a condition that was not expected.”

This image of the sunlit part of Jupiter and its swirling atmosphere was created by a citizen scientist (Alex Mai) using data from Juno’s JunoCam instrument.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS/Alex Mai

Whatever happened, it made Juno turn off all its “unnecessary subsystems” — including its science instruments — and position itself toward the Sun to obtain as much power as possible.

The spacecraft entered safe mode after losing access to its computer. NASA revealed that mission specialists plan to reboot the spacecraft’s onboard computer in hopes of bringing the probe back.

High-speed data have been restored, and the spacecraft is carrying out flight software diagnosis. All instruments are off, and the gathering of scientific data scheduled for the second close flyby of Jupiter did not occur.

Strangely, this is the second failure for Juno in a week.

A smiley face can be seen in this image of Jupiter created by a citizen scientist (Randy Ahn) using data from Juno’s JunoCam instrument.
In JunoCam’s view, Jupiter is only half-lit, so Ahn copied and flipped the half-smile to make a full smile out of Jupiter’s swirling atmosphere.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS/Randy Ahn

Las week NASA announced that mission control would delay changing the spacecraft’s orbit because two valves in Juno’s engines behaved anomalously.

So far, mission specialists have two massive problems to solve. The first –and perhaps most important one— is to figure out why the spacecraft enters safe mode, and why the engines didn’t work as expected.

Juno reached the Gas giant in July and is planned to study Jupiter for a period of 20 months.

According to statements by Scott Bolton, with the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio, Texas, Juno’s mission goals are NOT impacted by its orbit, because critical measurements are gathered every time the spacecraft flies near Jupiter.

“The worst-case scenario is I have to be patient and get the science slowly,” said Bolton to reporters during a webcast at the American Astronomical Society meeting in Pasadena, California.

Edmondo Burr
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