Jupiter image from Juno spacecraft
This color view from NASA's Juno spacecraft is made from some of the first images taken by JunoCam after the spacecraft entered orbit around Jupiter on July 5th (UTC).

Bryce Strauss graduated from the Department of Aerospace Engineering and Engineering Mechanics at UT Austin with his bachelor’s degree in aerospace engineering in May 2015. Just a year later, Strauss was on console at mission control as a mission operations systems engineer for the critical moment when NASA’s Juno spacecraft entered Jupiter’s orbit on July 4, 2016.

The Juno mission began in 2011 and will be the second spacecraft to orbit Jupiter, after Galileo from 1995 to 2003. After traveling over 1.8 billion miles for the past five years, Juno finally reached Jupiter’s orbit successfully. While in orbit, Juno will gather information about the planet’s atmosphere, magnetic fields and gravity fields to discover more about Jupiter’s structure — and possibly revealing whether it has a rocky core.

We caught up with Strauss before and after the mission to learn more about his role.

Bryce Strauss
Bryce Strauss, B.S. ASE 2015

Tell us about the orbit insertion phase and why it’s so critical to the Juno mission.

Juno’s Jupiter Orbit Insertion (JOI) phase is a make-or-break ignition of Juno’s main engine. The spacecraft launched in 2011, and this maneuver slowed it down enough to be captured into a 53-day orbit around Jupiter.

Without the JOI phase, Juno would be traveling too fast and fly by Jupiter. If Juno wouldn’t have made it into Jupiter’s orbit on July 4, that would have been the end of it — there would be no science mission. However, we had a robust spacecraft command sequence on board to ensure minimal burn interruptions.

How long did the process take?

The automatic orbit insertion sequence began running since on June 30, and the nominal burn on July 4 took only 35 minutes. We monitored spacecraft telemetry up until the moment Juno re-oriented itself from its flight position to its burn position. At this point we translated “tones” transmitted from Juno to ensure everything was occurring as planned. Because the sequence is fully autonomous, this phase was a matter of trusting the team’s many years of work and watching it execute successfully. JOI was nearly perfect and Juno successfully entered orbit around Jupiter as planned.

What role did you play at this phase of the mission?

As a mission operations systems engineer at Lockheed Martin Space Systems Company, I worked as part of the team focused on spacecraft health and safety. My role was to coordinate spacecraft activities with the Juno team and build/uplink the necessary commanding to achieve mission success.

During the insertion, I monitored the spacecraft at Lockheed Martin in Denver, Colo. Nominal Juno operations and commanding actually occur from Denver rather than from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL). We have a mission control area for five current missions (MRO, Odyssey, Maven, Spitzer and Juno) on our campus, and I was located at the Juno Systems Engineering console. We had a full suite of specialized engineers monitoring their respective subsystems here in Denver. In addition, an equivalent team was monitoring the spacecraft at JPL to have full redundancy during the critical event.

Juno mission celebration
The Juno team celebrates on July 4th after the spacecraft successfully enters Jupiter's orbit.

What is it like to be here in your career already?

I am extremely fortunate to have landed on such a neat program after graduating in May 2015. I did two summer internships with Lockheed Martin throughout my time at UT Austin. Upon graduation I transitioned to mission operations and started working on Juno.

How did you feel once Juno successfully entered Jupiter’s orbit?

I was ecstatic! It was incredible to experience the excitement alongside my Juno Operations team and the original Juno design/development team here at Lockheed Martin.

Will you be involved with future aspects of the Juno mission? If so, what will your role be?

Yes, I am continuing to work with the Juno Mission as a spacecraft team systems engineer throughout science operations. My day-to-day primarily consists of coordinating, building, and testing spacecraft commanding. I hope to work on the Juno mission until we execute our controlled deorbit maneuver (i.e., crash Juno into Jupiter) in early 2018.