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Jupiter-bound Juno performs 1st deep space manoeuvre

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This artist's concept depicts NASA's Juno spacecraft during a burn of its main engine. A NASA/JPL photo

PASADENA (BNS): NASA's Jupiter-bound spacecraft Juno has successfully completed its first deep-space manoeuvre by firing its main engine aimed at refining its trajectory ahead of a fly-by of Earth next year.

The spacecraft, heading to the Solar System's largest planet where it is set to arrive in 2016, began the first deep-space manoeuvre at 6:57 pm EDT (2257 GMT) Thursday when its Leros-1b main engine was fired for 29 minutes 39 seconds.

Based on telemetry, the Juno project team believes the burn was accurate, changing the spacecraft's velocity by about 770 mph (344 meters a second) while consuming about 829 pounds (376 kilograms) of fuel, NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) said.

The engine burn occurred when Juno was more than 483 million kilometers away from Earth.

A second such exercise is planned for September 4 which will place the spacecraft on course for its Earth flyby, which will occur as the spacecraft is completing one elliptical orbit around the Sun.

The Earth flyby, set for Oct 9, 2013, will boost Juno's velocity by 16,330 mph (about 7.3 kilometers per second), placing the spacecraft on its final flight path for Jupiter. During the flyby, the spacecraft will be at an altitude of about 500 kilometers.

"We still have the Earth flyby and another 1.4 billion miles and four years to go to get to Jupiter," said Scott Bolton, Juno's principal investigator from the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio.

"The team will be busy during that whole time, collecting science on the way out to Jupiter and getting ready for our prime mission at Jupiter, which is focused on learning the history of how our solar system was formed," the researcher added.

The windmill-shaped, solar-powered robotic spacecraft was launched on Aug. 5, 2011 on a year-long mission to explore Jupiter's origins, structure, atmosphere and magnetosphere.

Once in the planet's orbit, the spacecraft will circle Jupiter 33 times, from pole-to-pole, and use its collection of eight science instruments to probe beneath the gas giant's obscuring cloud cover.

Named after the wife of the Roman god Jupiter, the USD 1.1 billion Juno is NASA's first mission there since it launched Galileo in 1989.

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