NASA announced that the Juno mission to Jupiter will retain its current orbital period instead of the planned shift to a 14-day orbit. The change in plans comes after an engine malfunction in October last year, but NASA remains optimistic that the current 53-day orbit will yield positive, and even spectacular, results.

A Change In Plans

The re-evaluation of Juno's mission to Jupiter came after a failed attempt at reducing the spacecraft's orbital period to 14 days instead of the current 53 days. What happened was in the attempt to move to the next phase of the mission, Juno suffered a malfunction when a pair of helium valves in the engine did not operate properly, leading to a delay in the mission's plan.

However, NASA announced on Friday, Feb. 17 that it will forgo the 14-day orbital period altogether and instead stick with the current 53-day orbit. The decision was made based on a thorough review that led the team to believe that another misfire could possibly lead to a less desirable orbit and risk completely derailing Juno's science objectives.

What Now?

The original plan for the $1.1 billion mission was for the Juno spacecraft to orbit Jupiter 37 times by early 2018. Under this plan, Juno would loop around the planet two times in 53-day orbits before shifting to a 14-day orbital period for the rest of the mission. However, because of the new development, the spacecraft will need a few extra years to complete the 37 orbits.

Continuing in its current orbit means Juno will only get to do 12 science orbits until July 2018, when the mission's funding ends. The science team handling the mission can propose to extend it until its possible completion of 37 orbits in 2021.

As of now, Juno has already successfully orbited the giant planet four times since it arrived on July 4, 2016. Its next expected close flyby of Jupiter is on March 27.

Fortunately, Juno is powered by solar panels instead of a nuclear power source, which would allow it to complete its 37 orbits should the mission be extended.

'Bonus Science'

Despite this setback, the team handling Juno's mission remains optimistic for the many possibilities and advantages that the longer orbital period could pose, saying that the quality and amount of science that can be gathered in the current orbit remains unchanged.

In fact, they believe that the change in plans increased the value of Juno's research, especially since it now has a chance to explore areas that were not included in the initial plan. This "bonus science" can focus on areas such as Jupiter's magnetotail, the southern magnetosphere, and the magnetopause.

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