An artist’s impression of NASA's Galileo probe entering Jupiter’s atmosphere. Credit: NASA

What was the Galileo Jupiter Atmospheric Probe?

NASA's Galileo spacecraft carried an atmospheric entry probe that was released July 13, 1995, when the main spacecraft was still about 50 million miles (80 million kilometers) from Jupiter. The probe hit the atmosphere Dec. 7, 1995, and returned valuable data for 58 minutes.

Nation United States of America (USA)
Objective(s) Jupiter Atmospheric Entry
Spacecraft Galileo Jupiter Atmospheric Probe
Spacecraft Mass 743 pounds (337 kilograms)
Mission Design and Management NASA / JPL
Launch Vehicle Space Shuttle Atlantis STS-34R
Launch Date and Time Oct. 18, 1989 / 16:53:40 UT
Launch Site Kennedy Space Center, Fla. / Launch Complex 39B
Scientific Instruments 1. Atmospheric Structure Instrument
2. Neutral Mass Spectrometer
3. Helium Abundance Interferometer
4. Net-Flux Radiometer
5. Nephelometer
6. Lightning/Radio-Emission Instrument

Firsts

  • First spacecraft to enter Jupiter's atmosphere

Key Dates

Oct. 18, 1989: Launch

July 13, 1995: Probe was released from the Galileo spacecraft

Dec. 7, 1995: Probe penetrated Jupiter's atmosphere

In Depth: Galileo Jupiter Atmospheric Probe

NASA's Galileo mission to Jupiterone of the agency's most ambitious deep space missionscarried a 743-pound (337-kilogram) probe designed to return data as it entered the Jovian atmosphere by parachute.

The Galileo atmospheric entry probe was based on the design of the large probe of the Pioneer Venus multi-probe.

It was released July 13, 1995, when the main Galileo spacecraft was still about 50 million miles (80 million kilometers) from Jupiter.

The probe hit the atmosphere at 6.5 degrees north latitude and 4.4 degrees west longitude at 22:04:44 UT Dec. 7, 1995, traveling at a relative velocity of about 30 miles per hour (48 kilometers per hour).

The probe returned valuable data for 58 minutes as it plunged into the Jovian cauldron. It endured a maximum deceleration of 228 g’s about a minute after entry when temperatures scaled up to 28,832 degrees Fahrenheit (16,000 degrees Celsius).

The probe’s transmitter failed 61.4 minutes after entry when the spacecraft was about 112 miles (180 kilometers) below its entry ceiling, evidently due to the enormous pressure (22.7 atmospheres).

Data, originally transmitted to the main spacecraft and later transmitted back to Earth, indicated an intense radiation belt about 31,000 miles (50,000 kilometers) above Jupiter’s clouds, few organic compounds, and winds as high as about half a mile per second (640 meters per second).

The entry probe also found less lightning, less water vapor, and half the helium than had been expected in the upper atmosphere.

The Galileo orbiter, meanwhile, fired its engine at 00:27 UT Dec. 8, becoming Jupiter’s first human-made satellite.

During its nearly eight-year mission around Jupiter, Galileo returned an unprecedented amount of data on the planet and its environs.

Because Galileo had not been sterilized, to prevent contamination, it was decided to have the vehicle burn up in the Jovian atmosphere after its mission ended instead of risking impact on one of Jupiter's moon such as Europa.

Having completed its 35th orbit around Jupiter and after accompanying the planet for three-quarters of a circuit around the Sun, Galileo flew into the atmosphere at a velocity of 30 miles per second (48.2 kilometers per second), just south of the equator, on Sept. 21, 2003, at 18:57 UT.

Key Source

Siddiqi, Asif A. Beyond Earth: A Chronicle of Deep Space Exploration, 1958-2016. NASA History Program Office, 2018.

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