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JUNO, Destination Reached – The NASA probe JUpiter Near-polar Orbiter (JUNO), born from an intense cooperation with Italian partners, has successfully entered Jupiter’s orbit. It will study the “gas giant” of the Solar System for the next 20 months

After a journey, started on August 5 of 2011, about three billions kilometers distant and lasting almost five years, JUNO has reached its destination. On June, 4th 2016, at 8.53 pm (California time – in Italy it was 5.53 am of June, 5th), JUNO correctly entered the orbit of the biggest planet in the Solar System with a delicate maneuver which required the utilization of the main engine for 35 minutes, so as to slow it down and execute the JOI (Jupiter Orbit Insertion).  An intense exploration program now begins for the NASA probe, based on a sequence of fly-bys (37 fly-bys are expected) which will bring it closer to Jupiter than any earlier space vehicle.

JUNO will subsequently descend below the planet’s clouds curtain, it will plunge into its magnetosphere and its polar Aurorae. These maneuvers will allow the probe to measure the quantity of water in the atmosphere, to study the fluids’ movements, to map the gravitational and magnetic fields of the planet and to investigate its internal structure.

Barbara Negri, ASI’s head of the Unità Osservazione dell’Universo, has underlined the relevance of the Italian contribution to the mission. “The two Italian instruments on board of the JUNO satellite, produced by ASI, represent an example of scientific and technological excellence. The JIRAM instrument (JIRAM (Jovian InfraRed Auroral Mapper) was designed to study the dynamics and chemistry of Jupiter’s aurorae in the near infrared. Unlike other similar instruments, on other planetary missions, this is the first installed on a spin-stabilized satellite. It is also the first instrument which uses a passive cooling system and the first operating in an environment marked by strong radiation”.

“The radio science experiment,” Barbara Negri added, “is meant to study the inside structure of the planet and sets the scientific goal of mapping Jupiter’s gravity field. The experiment’s key tool is the Ka-band transponders (KaT) provided by ASI and built by Thales Alenia Space. The KaT transponder provides a two-way link in the Ka-band with the ground station for accurate distance and speed measurements.”

“JUNO is a mission that will make history and that sees NASA and ASI partner again in search of information to explain the origins of the Solar System,” the President of ASI Roberto Battiston stated, “The study of Jupiter is also a major scientific and technological challenge to which Italy takes part with two advanced tools thanks to INAF and to industries such as Leonardo Finmeccanica and Thales Alenia Space.”

“This mission,” Battiston also reported, ”shows how the Italian scientific community plays a highly important role. Aside from the symbolic and historical partnership with NASA it represents a crucial growth opportunity for both Italian companies and  researchers. Working side by side with the world’s leading space agency has allowed a huge breakthrough for the Country, both for the technological capacity and for our human capital.”

“After eleven years of work, including five travelling through space, we finally reached Jupiter, the so long-awaited goal, ” commented Alberto Adriani of INAF, Principal Investigator of the JIRAM tool, “and now comes the fun part. We cannot wait to turn our instruments on and to collect the first scientific data, which will allow us to unveil many of the still mysterious aspects of the largest and most hostile planet of our solar system!”

“I followed with great emotion and pride the successful Jupiter Orbit Insertion of the JUNO spacecraft from NASA/CalTech Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena,” commented the Ambassador of Italy in the United States, Armando Varricchio, “an historic event in which once more Italy played a significant role thanks to the decades long extraordinary cooperation between Italy and the United States in the field of space exploration. Following the thread of Galileo Galilei, thanks to JUNO Italian science and technology have reached new unexplored frontiers”.

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