Monday, 30 November 2015

11.07.2109 - Jupiter Slingshot

By NASA/JPL [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Distance: 747,989,353 km from Earth | Content Flag: Public

Jupiter and its attendant moons are arrayed in our sensors like a small solar system of their own. This is the third and penultimate gravity assist before we leave the solar system. Once Jupiter’s gravity and orbital motion swing us onto our new course, we will be travelling at over 230km per second. With every second that passes, we are setting a new speed record for any human-built object.

Even at this speed, Jupiter is an impressive sight. The bands of high-speed clouds that create Jupiter’s distinctive appearance are crystal clear in the ultra-high definition of the main telescope. I can also see the Great Red Spot. This storm has been the identifying mark of the gas giant for centuries and is big enough to swallow the Earth. Analysing the data, we can confirm the findings of the Observer probes that the storm appears to be pulling itself into two giant vortices.

We’re currently propelled by the solar sail as the booster frame ran out of fuel and was disconnected as we approached. Its replacement was launched 8 years ago and is now waiting for us on the other side of Jupiter.

At this speed, we won’t have time to perform any real science. The observations we have made are being transmitted to the Observer probes in orbit around Jupiter. They have been examining the planet’s plasma flows looking for traces of the Sun Dragon A entity, as well as acting as sentries in case of a Sun Dragon’s return. Jupiter’s intense electromagnetic fields provided the energy that fuelled the alien’s journey through the solar system.

With the swing-by manoeuvre successfully completed, we are on track to rendezvous with the second booster sled. It’s travelling slower than we are so we can catch it up. Our velocity makes this an extremely difficult and dangerous procedure. If we are off by even the smallest margin then we have to abort and continue the mission without it. If that happens, it will add another thirty years to our travel time.

We’ve connected with the new booster frame without incident. Once we cross the termination shock boundary of the solar system in seven years time, we’ll fire the sled to accelerate us through interstellar space. By that time the solar sail will receive too little pressure from the solar wind to be useful. It won’t even generate electricity at that distance.

As we departed Jupiter, we experienced a software malfunction. My role as the Secondary Command Module includes monitoring the Primary Control Module to assess its integrity and the soundness of its decisions. With a system as complex as the probe there is back-up and redundancy even for the decisions the computer systems make. I detected a divergence in the data in the PCM’s memory. It not only conflicted with my own data but that of the engineering subsystem it was taken from. Thankfully a reboot seemed to fix the problem – if in doubt turn it off and on again!

This is Seb signing off – next stop Saturn.

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