The Galileo spacecraft has kicked itself onto a new path that puts it right on target for an orbit around Jupiter while a smaller companion dives into the planet’s atmosphere.
Galileo blasted its main rocket engine for about five minutes at about midnight Wednesday to put itself on its final course.
“The main maneuver was flawless,” William O’Neil, manager of the $1.6 billion Galileo project, said at a news conference at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. “It was … easily the most exciting thing we’ve probably done certainly in many years.”
Galileo was hauled into space in October 1989 aboard the space shuttle Atlantis and sent on a looping journey through the solar system for its rendezvous with Jupiter. On Thursday, it was 46 million miles from Jupiter and 428 million miles from Earth.
Galileo earlier this month deployed a separate atmospheric probe that will study the planet’s atmosphere. Without the latest rocket firing, Galileo would have followed that smaller vehicle.
The probe is to fall through Jupiter’s atmosphere on Dec. 7 to radio back data on chemical composition, temperature, wind, lightning and pressure before it is destroyed.
On the same day, Galileo is to fire its rocket again to slow down and ease into orbit around the planet.
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