With NASA's Juno spacecraft needing more time to gather the mission's required data, the US space agency has decided to extend its science operations until July 2021, making way for the probe to spend three more years in orbit around Jupiter.
Juno is in 53-day orbits rather than 14-day orbits as initially planned because of a concern about valves on the spacecraft's fuel system. This longer orbit means that it will take more time to collect the needed science data.
Scientists hope that the extension of the spacecraft's operations will enable the mission to achieve its primary science objectives.
The end of prime operations is now expected in July 2021, with data analysis and mission close-out activities continuing into 2022, NASA said in a statement this week.
An approval for the extension of the mission was expected as an independent panel of experts confirmed in April that Juno is on track to achieve its science objectives and is already returning spectacular results.
The Juno spacecraft and all instruments are healthy and operating nominally, NASA said, adding that the agency decided to fund the Juno probe through fiscal year 2022.
"With these funds, not only can the Juno team continue to answer long-standing questions about Jupiter that first fuelled this exciting mission, but they'll also investigate new scientific puzzles motivated by their discoveries thus far," said Thomas Zurbuchen, Associate Administrator for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington, DC.
"With every additional orbit, both scientists and citizen scientists will help unveil new surprises about this distant world," Zurbuchen added.
Launched in August 2011 with an aim to improve our understanding of the solar system's beginnings by revealing the origin and evolution of Jupiter, the Juno spacecraft arrived at the largest planet of our solar system in July 2016.
Scientists planned to have Juno complete 32 of the 14-day science orbits through February of this year, when its prime mission was scheduled to be over, Spaceflight Now reported on Friday.