NASA has decided to postpone a key manoeuvre that would put its Juno spaceraft closer to Jupiter, after detecting an issue in valves that play an important role in the firing of the spacecraft's main engine.
The upcoming burn of its main rocket motor originally scheduled for October 19.
This burn, called the period reduction manoeuvre (PRM), was to reduce Juno's orbital period around Jupiter from 53.4 to 14 days.
The decision was made in order to further study the performance of a set of valves that are part of the spacecraft's fuel pressurisation system. The PRM is the final scheduled burn of Juno's main engine.
"Telemetry indicates that two helium check valves that play an important role in the firing of the spacecraft's main engine did not operate as expected during a command sequence that was initiated yesterday," said Rick Nybakken, Juno project manager at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in the US.
"The valves should have opened in a few seconds, but it took several minutes. We need to better understand this issue before moving forward with a burn of the main engine," said Nybakken.
After consulting with Lockheed Martin Space Systems of Denver and NASA Headquarters in Washington, the project decided to delay the PRM manoeuvre at least one orbit.
The most efficient time to perform such a burn is when the spacecraft is at the part of its orbit which is closest to the planet. The next opportunity for the burn would be during its close flyby of Jupiter on December 11.
Mission designers had originally planned to limit the number of science instruments on during Juno's October 19 close flyby of Jupiter.
Now, with the period reduction manoeuvre postponed, all of the spacecraft's science instruments will be gathering data during the upcoming flyby.
"It is important to note that the orbital period does not affect the quality of the science that takes place during one of Juno's close flybys of Jupiter," said Scott Bolton, principal investigator of Juno from the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio.
"The mission is very flexible that way. The data we collected during our first flyby on August 27th was a revelation, and I fully anticipate a similar result from Juno's October 19th flyby," said Bolton.
The Juno spacecraft launched on August 5, 2011 and arrived at Jupiter on July 4, 2016.
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