LOS ANGELES — Since launching in 2011, NASA's Juno spacecraft has been cruising toward the biggest planet in the solar system. On Monday, Juno is scheduled to perform a nail-biting move designed to enter orbit around Jupiter to explore its cloud-covered atmosphere and interior makeup.
Here are a few key numbers about the $1.1 billion mission:
— 1.8 billion miles (2.8 billion kilometers)
That's the total distance traveled from launch to arrival. Juno's journey wasn't a straight shot. Since the rocket that carried Juno wasn't powerful enough to boost it directly to Jupiter, it took a longer route. It looped around the inner solar system and then swung by Earth, using our planet as a gravity slingshot to hurtle toward the outer solar system.
— 3,100 miles (5,000 kilometers)
That's how close Juno will get to Jupiter's cloud tops. If Juno were any closer, it would feel the pull of Jupiter's atmosphere, which would prevent the spacecraft from conducting experiments.
— 48 minutes, 19 seconds
That's the time it takes for radio signals from Jupiter to reach Earth. During the encounter, Juno will fire its main engine for about a half hour to slow down. By the time ground controllers receive word that it started, the engine burn would have been completed, and if all goes as planned, Juno would be in orbit.
— 20 months
That's how long the mission will last. Since Juno is in a harsh radiation environment, its delicate electronics are housed in a special titanium vault. Eventually, Juno will succumb to the intense radiation and will be commanded to plunge into Jupiter's atmosphere to avoid any collision with the planet's moons.
Juno carries a suite of nine instruments to explore Jupiter from its interior to its atmosphere. It will map Jupiter's gravity and magnetic fields and track how much water is in the atmosphere. Its color camera dubbed JunoCam will snap close-ups of Jupiter's swirling clouds, polar regions and shimmering southern and northern lights.
Three massive solar wings extend from Juno, making it the most distant solar-powered spacecraft. The panels can generate 500 watts of electricity, enough to power the instruments.
Mission page: http://tinyurl.com/Jupitermission
Follow Alicia Chang on Twitter: @SciWriAlicia