NASA's Juno spacecraft passes in front of Jupiter in this artist's depiction. The Juno mission is the first of NASA's three planetary missions launching this year, making 2011 one of the busiest ever in planetary exploration. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
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NASA's Juno spacecraft is getting ready to lift off on Friday, Aug. 5, 2011. On Aug. 4, at about 5 a.m. PDT (8 a.m. EDT), the Jupiter explorer will be rolled some 1,800 feet (about 550 meters) from the 286-foot-tall (87-meter) Vertical Integration Facility, where the Atlas V rocket and Juno were mated, to its launch pad at Space Launch Complex 41 at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.
"Our next move will be much farther - about 1,740 million miles [2,800 million kilometers] to Jupiter," said Jan Chodas, Juno project manager from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. "The rollout completes Juno's journey on Earth, and now we're excited to be taking our first step into space."
The launch period for Juno opens Aug. 5 and extends through Aug. 26. The spacecraft is expected to arrive at Jupiter in 2016. For an Aug. 5 liftoff, the launch window opens at 8:34 a.m. PDT (11:34 a.m. EDT) and remains open through 9:43 a.m. PDT (12:43 p.m. EDT).
At Cape Canaveral, Atlas V rockets are assembled vertically on a mobile launch platform in the Vertical Integration Facility south of the pad. The mobile platform, carrying Juno and its rocket, will be rolled out to the pad using four 250-ton (227,000-kilogram) rail cars.
When launched, Juno will take almost 11 minutes to reach its temporary orbit around Earth. About 30 minutes later, the Atlas rocket's second stage will perform a second, nine-minute burn, after which Juno will be on its five-year journey to the largest planet in the solar system.
The solar-powered Juno spacecraft will orbit Jupiter's poles 33 times, investigating the gas giant's origins, structure, atmosphere and magnetosphere. Juno's color camera will provide close-up images of Jupiter, including the first detailed glimpse of the planet's poles.
NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., manages the Juno mission for the principal investigator, Scott Bolton, of Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio. The Juno mission is part of the New Frontiers Program managed at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala. Lockheed Martin Space Systems, Denver, built the spacecraft. Launch management for the mission is the responsibility of NASA's Launch Services Program at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. JPL is a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena.