From the reaches of deep space, a NASA spacecraft has set a new record. Juno, on its way to study Jupiter, has ventured farther from Earth than any solar-powered craft ever before.
Launched in 2011, Juno has three solar panels that are each 30 feet long, which almost made the craft too large to launch. Those panels comprise about 18,698 individual solar cells across 261 square feet of surface area.
The panels are able to use more types of light than average solar panels, but still can only convert about 28 percent of collected sunlight into energy.
On Earth, Juno is equipped to generate 14 kilowatts of energy. But in the depths of space near Jupiter, that winds down to about 500 watts.
“Jupiter is five times farther from the sun than Earth, and the sunlight that reaches that far out packs 25 times less punch,” said Rick Nybakken, Juno’s project manager.
Previously, the European Space Agency’s Rosetta spacecraft held the record, at 492 million miles from Earth, set in 2012. Juno officially surpassed that record, hitting 493 million miles, on Wednesday.
By the time Juno reaches Jupiter — scheduled for July 4 of this year — it will be 517 million miles distant.
“It is cool that we got the record and that our dedicated team of engineers and scientists can chalk up another first in space exploration,” said Scott Bolton, a principal investigator with the Juno mission. “But the best is yet to come.”