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Juno spacecraft armoured up to go to Jupiter

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Once the radiation vault was installed on top of the propulsion module, NASA's Juno spacecraft was lifted onto a large rotation fixture to continue with its assembly process. NASA/JPL-Caltech/LMSS photo.

NEW DELHI (BNS): Engineers have recently added a unique protective shield around NASA's Juno spacecraft which will be forging ahead into a treacherous environment at Jupiter.

In a specially filtered cleanroom in Denver, where Juno is being assembled, engineers added the protective shield around the spacecraft’s sensitive electronics, NASA said.

"Juno is basically an armored tank going to Jupiter," said Scott Bolton, Juno's principal investigator, based at Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio.

An invisible force field filled with high-energy particles coming off from Jupiter and its moons surrounds the largest planet in our solar system.

This magnetic force field, similar to a less powerful one around Earth, shields Jupiter from charged particles flying off the sun.

Jupiter's radiation belts are shaped like a huge doughnut around the planet's equatorial region and extend out past the moon Europa, about 650,000 kilometers (400,000 miles) out from the top of Jupiter's clouds.

"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.

"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.

However, the vault is not designed to completely prevent every Jovian electron, ion or proton from hitting the system, but it will dramatically slow down the aging effect radiation has on electronics for the duration of the mission.

Scientists have also designed a path that takes Juno around Jupiter's poles, spending as little time as possible in the sizzling radiation belts around Jupiter's equator.

JPL tested pieces of the vault in a radiation environment similar to Jupiter's to make sure the design will be able to handle the stress of space flight and the Jupiter environment, McAlpine said.

It will undergo further testing once the whole spacecraft is put together. Juno is expected to launch in August 2011.

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