(Image Credit: NASA)
Despite its romantic place in celestial history, Jupiter is one hostile region.
But before we can even attempt to conquer the Galilean moons is a distant future, we are going to have to scout out the gas giant in order to ensure that our species is able to survive orbiting our star systems largest gas giant.
Using a spinning, solar-powered spacecraft, Juno will make maps of the gravity, magnetic fields, and atmospheric composition of Jupiter from a unique polar orbit. Juno will carry precise high-sensitivity radiometers, magnetometers, and gravity science systems . During its one-year mission, Juno will complete 33 eleven-day-long orbits and will sample Jupiter’s full range of latitudes and longitudes. From its polar perspective, Juno combines in situ and remote sensing observations to explore the polar magnetosphere and determine what drives Jupiter’s remarkable auroras. (New Frontiers, NASA)
NASA has already begun building the titanium shield that will protect the delicate satellite from the raging ions, protons and elections of the planet (which are strong enough to kill robots, let alone humans).
“For the 15 months Juno orbits Jupiter, the spacecraft will have to withstand the equivalent of more than 100 million dental X-rays,” said Bill McAlpine, Juno’s radiation control manager, based at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. “In the same way human beings need to protect their organs during an X-ray exam, we have to protect Juno’s brain and heart.” […]
With guidance from JPL and the principal investigator, engineers at Lockheed Martin Space Systems designed and built a special radiation vault made of titanium for a centralized electronics hub. While other materials exist that make good radiation blockers, engineers chose titanium because lead is too soft to withstand the vibrations of launch, and some other materials were too difficult to work with.
Each titanium wall measures nearly a square meter (nearly 9 square feet) in area, about 1 centimeter (a third of an inch) in thickness, and 18 kilograms (40 pounds) in mass. This titanium box — about the size of an SUV’s trunk – encloses Juno’s command and data handling box (the spacecraft’s brain), power and data distribution unit (its heart) and about 20 other electronic assemblies. The whole vault weighs about 200 kilograms (500 pounds). (Astrobiology Magazine)
JUNO is expected to survive at least 15 months in Jovian orbit, which should give scientists plenty of information on not only how extensive Jupiter’s radiation belts are, but their exact width and strength as well.
These measurements could determine whether Ganymede (which is larger than the planet Mercury) is worthy of human settlement.
While this information will not benefit our species in this day and age (or even our grandkids for that matter), it may help us map out safe locations of travel within the Jupiteran system, helping humanity survive within the system without being radiated like popcorn in a microwave.
(Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/LMSS)