When the Juno spacecraft takes off from Cape Canaveral for Jupiter on August 5, it will carry a new generation of green power never seen before on extended space missions. Thanks to innovative technology developed at Boeing subsidiary Spectrolab, Juno will be the first solar-powered spacecraft specifically designed for great distance from the sun. Until now, NASA believed that spacecraft travelling that far from the sun would require nuclear powered generators. For this mission, no atomic energy will be necessary. With a five year trip just to reach the planet’s orbit and intense radiation to deal with when it gets there, engineers had to evolve solar technology to the next level. The advanced solar cells on this new generation of spacecraft are 50% more efficient than the silicon cells previously in use and were designed specifically to deal with the high radiation belts that surround Jupiter.
Giant solar panels bring energy efficiency
Three large solar panels span more than 66 feet across the wings, the largest solar array ever assembled on a planetary probe. This broad array will permit Juno to convert 28% of the sun’s energy to electricity. For protection from the dangerous bombardment of space debris and radiation, Juno has been outfitted with a shielded electronics vault to protect the sensitive electronics and ensure continuous availability of power. The energy efficiency of the craft brings the power footprint to the absolute minimum. Once Juno arrives at Jupiter, it will only need about 405 watts to maintain the instruments, half for keeping the spacecraft warm and the other half for driving all of the instruments and avionics. With power use at less than an average home appliance, energy efficiency innovation will soon spread to hundreds of consumer goods.
NASA innovation will spread across the economy
Juno’s mission represents a milestone for the US space program. Solar cells have become commonplace in satellites that orbit earth’s atmosphere – but Juno’s mission is more than five times further away from the sun. In order to efficiently operate so far away from its main power source, Juno will employ 18,000 solar cells. With a mission cost at over $1 billion, the spacecraft represents a model of innovation. Juno was designed to spin in space like a giant solar powered propeller. With wings spanning more than 65 feet in length and weighing more than 700 pounds, engineers needed to be meticulous in design in order to ensure that the craft spins gracefully during its decade long mission. The technological innovation of this new generation of spacecraft will not only help man reach the far corners of our galaxy, but should bring green consumer technology breakthroughs for years to come.