NASA is extending the missions of the Juno spacecraft currently orbiting Jupiter and its moons and the Martian InSight lander probing for marsquakes until 2025 and 2022 respectively.
Officials consulted an independent review panel of scientists and engineers for advice on what to do with the spacecraft, as both had passed their original planned mission durations. Considering both are still in pretty good shape, the space agency decided to keep them in operation.
"The Senior Review has validated that these two planetary science missions are likely to continue to bring new discoveries, and produce new questions about our solar system," said Lori Glaze, NASA’s director of the planetary science division.
She added: "I thank the members of the Senior Review panel for their comprehensive analysis and thank the mission teams as well, who will now continue to provide exciting opportunities to refine our understanding of the dynamic science of Jupiter and Mars."
Launched in 2011, Juno was originally expected to fly for seven years but has been ticking away for over nine years now. As the second spacecraft to orbit the Solar System’s largest planet, the solar-powered bird was designed to take more detailed measurements of Jupiter’s gravitational and magnetic fields, its magnetosphere, and its chemical composition.
The plucky spacecraft has helped scientists discover a number of interesting facts, such as the surprising amount of water at its equator, how lightning strikes at its poles, and the shrinking size of its Giant Red Spot storm.
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NASA planned to deorbit Juno later this year on 30 July, where it would descend into Jupiter’s atmosphere and disintegrate. But the spacecraft has been given a new lease on life and will plow through until 2025, unless it breaks down first. The probe will be directed to the planet’s rings and numerous moons, and is expected to make close flybys of targets Ganymede, Europa and Io.
The InSight mission hasn’t gone as smoothly. The lander’s infamous burrowing probe, nicknamed The Mole, has suffered a series of mishaps that prevented it from getting deep into the surface of Mars to take the planet’s temperature. InSight, however, has soldiered on and has done some good work since it was launched in 2018.
Its other functional instruments have uncovered interior grumblings from marsquakes, possible pools of water below ground, and even detected solar eclipses on the Red Planet. NASA wants the lander to continue investigating what goes on beneath the surface until 2022.
"InSight's extended mission will focus on producing a long-duration, high quality seismic dataset," it said in a statement. "Continued operation of its weather station and burial of the seismic tether using the spacecraft's Instrument Deployment Arm (IDA), will contribute to the quality of this seismic dataset." ®