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Last Updated:  Thursday, 27 February, 2003, 16:06 GMT
Galileo's Jupiter mission winds down
By Dr David Whitehouse
BBC News Online science editor

One of the most successful planetary exploration missions ever undertaken, the Galileo mission to Jupiter, is officially ending.

Galileo at Jupiter, Nasa
Its tour of Jupiter is over
The flight team for the spacecraft is to cease operations on 28 February as the mission winds down with a final playback of data from the probe's tape recorder.

With no more planned encounters with Jupiter's moons, Galileo will coast for the next seven months before transmitting a few hours of science data before its 21 September plunge into the gas giant's atmosphere.

During its mission, Galileo has provided unprecedented close-ups of Jupiter and its retinue of moons, including volcano-strewn Io and ice-crusted Europa.

"While the team is sad to see it come to an end, there is great pride in Galileo's remarkable accomplishments," says Eilene Theilig, Galileo project manager.

Depleted propellant

Galileo was deployed from the cargo bay of space shuttle Atlantis in 1989 and sent en route to Jupiter, flying past an asteroid on its way.

At Jupiter, Galileo produced a string of discoveries about its atmosphere, its magnetic environment, and especially its moons.

The prime mission ended six years ago, after two years orbiting the gas giant, but Nasa extended the mission three times.

Now, the onboard supply of propellant is nearly depleted. Without fuel, Galileo will be unable to point its antenna towards Earth or adjust its trajectory.

To prevent any contamination of Jupiter's moons, engineers have placed Galileo on a course that will take it into the crushing pressure of the large planet's atmosphere.

Out and back

Late last year, Galileo passed closer to Jupiter than it had ever done before, flying near an inner moon named Amalthea and through a section of Jupiter's gossamer ring to begin its 35th and final orbit around the giant planet.

Its last orbit will take it farther from Jupiter than it has been since before it entered orbit in 1995, to a point more than 26 million kilometres (16 million miles) away before heading back in for impact.

"We have no further activities planned until the day of impact," Theilig says.

At its peak, the Galileo flight team numbered about 300 people, but has been much leaner in recent years, with about 30 since the Amalthea flyby. That smaller team is now disbanding.

Time running out for spaceprobe
29 Nov 02 |  Science/Nature
Galileo bids farewell to Io
17 Jan 02 |  Science/Nature
Galileo sends new Jupiter moon views
23 Aug 01 |  Science/Nature

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