NASA to Investigate Recurring Problem With Juno Orbiter Camera

An artist's impression of Juno orbiting Jupiter.

The Juno spacecraft did not take all the images it was supposed to during a flyby of Jupiter on January 22. NASA says it will look into the problem.

Juno is an orbiter that launched to Jupiter from Earth in August 2011. Since its arrival at the gas giant in 2016, the spacecraft has made 48 flybys of the planet, during which its JunoCam visible light imager has taken images of the tops of clouds in the planet’s turbid skies.

Last month, Juno suffered a glitch that affected JunoCam. The camera team attributed unusable and noisy images to a temperature rise, possibly caused by Jupiter’s magnetosphere, that happened as the camera was powered on.

In a release, NASA suggested the recent event may have been caused by a similar event. But this time, the anomaly’s impact was more substantial: JunoCam’s imaging was hampered for 23 hours, as opposed to the 36 minutes it was affected back in December. As a result, 214 images Juno attempted to take of Jupiter’s atmosphere are unusable.

Storms near Jupiter's North Pole, seen by JunoCam.

Once the temperature anomaly abated, JunoCam resumed operations and the 44 images it subsequently captured were of usable quality, NASA stated. But the engineering team is now examining data from the spacecraft’s two recent flybys to better understand the connection between the temperature anomalies and the camera’s dodgy imaging.

Back-to-back flybys with imaging issues is nothing to sniff at, but Juno has been going strong for nearly 10 years in Jupiter’s orbit. The mission has long outlasted the two years it was actually built to survive, so all the imagery we’re still downlinking is basically bonus media.

Juno’s 49th flyby of Jupiter is expected to occur on March 1. With any luck, the JunoCam team at NASA will know exactly what the spacecraft doesn’t like about the radiation fluctuations around the planet and can mitigate them.

More: Meet the Woman Who Guides NASA’s Juno Probe Through Jupiter’s Killer Radiation

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