Processed image of Jupiter from the JunoCam.
Image: Sean Doran (Flickr)

The Juno spacecraft currently orbiting Jupiter was supposed end its mission by crashing into the gas giant next month. Not anymore!

It turns out the scientific mission will be extended through at least 2021 so it can meet its goals, as Business Insider first reported yesterday. This will delay the probe’s dramatic demise for at least a few years.

“NASA has approved Juno to continue through 2022 to finish all of our originally planned science,” Scott Bolton, Juno’s principle investigator from the Southwest Research Institute, told Gizmodo in an email. “The orbits are longer than planned, and that is why Juno needs more time to gather our planned scientific measurements.”

Juno departed Earth for Jupiter in 2011 and arrived at the gas giant on July 4, 2016. Since then, it’s sent back a host of valuable data that has revealed new insights into Jupiter, like the depth of the red spot, three-dimensional views of the gas below its surface, and how its auroras work. It’s also delivered some of the best space images ever.

But things didn’t go off without a hitch. Juno is still in its initial 53-day orbit around Jupiter. An engine burn was supposed to shorten the orbit to 14 days, a maneuver that was canceled to avoid risk, according to a NASA release: “Two helium check valves that are part of the plumbing for the spacecraft’s main engine did not operate as expected when the propulsion system was pressurized in October.”

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The longer-than-planned orbits meant the probe would pass close to the planet fewer times. Extending the mission will allow the scientists more time to gather their data.

NASA has yet to officially announce the update, and would not provide any additional information.

A longer life for Juno is great news. I don’t know if space fans are ready for another probe’s death so soon after Cassini’s last farewell. 

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[via Business Insider]