Pioneering spacecraft from NASA and the Japanese space agency promise to reveal two unexplored asteroids later this year, officials said Wednesday, beginning surveys that will culminate in daring descents to capture samples for return to Earth, where eager scientists await a hands-on look at the specimens.
Concerns about the health of the Juno spacecraft’s main engine have compelled NASA managers to keep the research probe in its current arcing, high-altitude orbit around Jupiter, a decision that will delay the full science return from the $1.1 billion mission but should still allow it to meet all predetermined objectives.
NASA’s Juno spacecraft made a high-speed pass less than 3,000 miles over Jupiter’s turbulent clouds Thursday, taking dozens of pictures, measuring radiation and plasma waves, and peering deep inside the planet’s atmosphere, but officials still have not cleared the orbiter’s main engine for a planned maneuver to position the probe in its intended science orbit.
NASA’s Juno spacecraft will stay in its current long-period orbit around Jupiter until at least February, and perhaps longer, as engineers study balky valves inside the science probe’s propulsion system and an unexpected computer reboot that interrupted key functions of the orbiter earlier this month.
The scientist in charge of NASA’s OSIRIS-REx mission hopes to apply more than $30 million in leftover funding toward reducing the risk of the probe’s touch-and-go maneuver to snag a piece of asteroid Bennu, then eventually hire more experts to analyze the primordial specimens when they return to Earth in 2023.