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Today The Juno Spacecraft Slingshots Earth On Its Way To Jupiter

Image Courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI

Today a space craft launched in 2011 will briefly return to earth to slingshot around the planet so it can reach its final destination of Jupiter. Much of mission is being overseen by officials at Southwest Research Institute, which is located here in San Antonio.

Juno, an orbiting satellite that left Cape Canaveral on August 5, 2011, was first launched in the direction of the sun to use it’s orbit as a slingshot to gain momentum.
“It didn’t have enough energy to actually get all the way to Jupiter and we knew that," said Dr. Scott Bolton with the Southwest Research Institute, who is the Juno principal investigator.

Now Juno is using the Earth in the same way. Bolton is the principal investigator of the Juno Mission and said at 2:21 CST, the satellite will pass about 300 miles above South Africa.

“Its speed and its orbit changes so that it’s going now fast enough and in the right direction so that it’s orbit can reach all the way out to Jupiter,” Bolton said.

Juno, named after the Roman god married to Jupiter, will then joint the gas giant’s orbit to study it’s composition.

“After the sun was first formed, Jupiter got the bulk of the leftovers,” Bolton said.

Bolton said that set the stage for the rest of the planets to form in our system.

“We know Jupiter and the sun are very similar, they’re both almost all helium and hydrogen," he said. "But all the other elements -- that we call heavy elements -- Jupiter has a little more than the sun has percentage wise and we don’t really know how that happened. Water is one of the key things because that represents how much oxygen is in Jupiter. We know that those elements that Jupiter has more of are very important because those elements are exactly what we are made of and what life is made of.”

Juno is expected arrive at Jupiter on July 4, 2016. 

Take a virtual tour of Juno's mission in the following video:

Joey Palacios can be reached atJoey@TPR.org and on Twitter at @Joeycules