Putting a Satellite in Orbit Around Jupiter

An Atlas V rocket launches with the Juno spacecraft payload from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on Aug. 5, 2011.

Bill Ingalls/NASA via Getty Images

In August 2011, less than a month after the final shuttle flight touched down, NASA launched Juno, a robotic probe that will venture vastly farther than any human astronaut has ever gone. Named after the Roman goddess who was Jupiter's spouse, the 11-foot-by-11-foot (3.3-meter-by-3.3-meter) spacecraft will circle the solar system's biggest planet, following a polar orbit designed to avoid its high-radiation regions.

While other spacecraft have transmitted glimpses of Jupiter, Juno is the first that'll be able to "see" 30 to 45 miles (48.2 to 72.4 kilometers) through the planet's dense cloud cover with its infrared camera. Other instruments will map Jupiter's magnetic and gravitational fields and use microwave radiation to provide data on the structure, chemical composition and movement of Jovian clouds. To take in the optimal amount of data, Juno is designed to rotate twice each minute as it orbits, allowing its instruments to sweep the field of view. The probe's main purpose is to learn more about how the giant planet formed and evolved, knowledge that will help scientists understand giant planets being discovered around other stars [source: NASA].