From Earth to Jupiter: How long would it take to reach the gas giant?
Last Updated: September 29, 2023
When considering the planets, Jupiter stands out due to its massive size and distinctive features like the Great Red Spot, making it a favorite among many. When we gaze at objects in space, we often wonder and dream about visiting them.
But, how long would it take to get there? Let’s dive into the various factors to determine how long it would take to get to Jupiter!
The basics of space travel
When calculating travel time you use two basic measurements: the distance and the speed of the vehicle. The average distance between Earth and Jupiter is 484 million miles (778 million kilometers) from Earth ranging from 365 million miles (588 million kilometers) at their closest points up to 601 million miles (968 million km) away at their farthest points.
Related Reading: How Far Away Is Jupiter From Earth Right Now?
However, just as it is here on Earth, travel time highly depends on the route you take.
There are typically four factors when considering a more precise flight duration to any astronomical object:
- Whether or not the spacecraft is sent to other celestial objects either for scientific studies and/or a gravity assist using a slingshot flight maneuver. While a quick flyby mainly for a gravity assist will dramatically increase speed and decrease travel time, time spent studying that planetary system becomes a little more complicated in terms of its actual impact on average velocity and travel time.
- The launch vehicle capabilities as much of the speed of the aircraft (disregarding gravity assists and thruster adjustments) will be determined by the speed the rocket can attain after escaping Earth’s gravity, which requires a minimum of 7 miles/ 11.2 kilometers per second (25,000 mph or just over 40,000 km/ hr) just to reach Earth’s escape velocity. As a baseline, the Apollo spacecrafts reached a speed of 8 km/sec.
- Slowing down requires time by either reverse-firing thrusters in space or utilizing atmospheric re-entry if landing. A flyby will be shorter than an orbit insertion (which is the best we can do for Jupiter since we can’t land on it since there is no surface) or landing on the surface of an object like a moon.
- A planet is not a fixed point in space like a house since it is constantly moving around the Sun. So, we can’t only plan to reach the end destination based on the distance when we launch, but where it will be by the time we reach it. This calculation also has to be done for any gravity assists that will be planned along the trip.
While theoretical flight plans are helpful, what real flight plans can we compare to better understand more realistic travel times to Jupiter?
Past missions to Jupiter
There have been 9 missions that have either included Jupiter in their flight plan or had it as the final destination. Let’s dive into the travel times, but also factors of each of these missions to understand a better realistic average of travel time to Jupiter.
Note: Many of the missions have already been featured heavily in our previous article in this series on how long it would take to get to Saturn including Pioneer 11, Voyagers 1&2, Cassini, and New Horizons. For more details on their mission details, please reference that article.
Related Article: How Much of Space Have We Explored So Far?
Pioneer 10 was NASA’s first mission to the outer planets. The spacecraft was designated Pioneer-F weighing 569 pounds (258 kilograms). It was launched on a 3-stage Atlas-Centaur rocket with a TE-M-364-4 solid propellant engine modified from the Surveyor lander. In addition to the Pioneer sisters, the Atlas-Centaur is known for launching Surveyor 1 and Mariner.
Mission Log of Relevant Key Dates:
March 2, 1972
Maximum escape velocity of 32,110 miles per hour (51,682 kilometers per hour), making it the fastest human-made object at that point in time
March 7 and 26th, 1972
July 15, 1972
entered the asteroid belt
Emerged from the asteroid belt
About 271 million miles (435 million kilometers) in the belt; encountered some asteroid hits during the journey
November 6, 1973
Began imaging Jupiter
November 26th, 1973
Encountered Jupiter’s magnetosphere/ front of its bow shock
December 4, 1973
closest approach to Jupiter
At a range of 81,000 miles (130,354 kilometers) at a velocity of approximately 78,000 miles per hour (126,000 kilometers/hour); passed Jovian moons
January 2, 1974
Jupiter encounter declared over
From Nov. 6 to 31 Dec. 31, Pioneer took about 500 pictures of Jupiter’s atmosphere with the highest resolution of about 200 miles (320 kilometers)
June 13, 1983
crossed the orbit of Neptune
March 31, 1997
Routine contact terminated
At 67 AU from Earth
Jan. 23, 2003
Pioneer 10’s last signal
7.6 billion miles (12.23 billion kilometers) from Earth
In total, from launch to Jupiter was 1 year and nine months for Pioneer 10. It was the first spacecraft to fly beyond Mars, fly through the main asteroid belt, fly past Jupiter, go beyond Neptune (when it crossed its orbit), use all-nuclear electrical power, and be placed on a trajectory to escape the solar system into interstellar space.
It took observations from multiple moons and over 500 observations of Jupiter’s atmosphere, providing the first detailed observations and data from the largest planet. While originally designed for a 21-month mission to fly by Jupiter, Pioneer 10 lasted more than 30 years.
Pioneer 11 was the sister spacecraft to Pioneer 10, with a similar goal of studying the outer solar system. It was the first spacecraft to study Saturn up close after a flyby and gravity assist from Jupiter. The spacecraft and launch vehicle were essentially the same as Pioneer 10.
April 6, 1973
About 32,000 miles per hour (51,800 kilometers per hour)
April 11, 1973 and April 26, 1974
Flew through asteroid belt
Dec 3, 1974
Jupiter flyby closest approach, gravity assist
About 26,400 miles (42,500 kilometers) from the planet’s cloud tops, traveling at more than 106,000 miles per hour (171,000 kilometers per hour), faster than any human-made object at the time
So, in total, from launch to Jupiter was 1 year and 8 months for Pioneer 11, keeping in mind Pioneer 11’s primary mission was Saturn and interstellar space.
Therefore Jupiter was primarily used as a gravity assist though the spacecraft took over 200 images. Pioneer 11 provided the first up-close-and-personal data collection of Saturn, providing numerous discoveries.
Voyager 1 and 2
The Voyager spacecraft were created to perform a “Grand Tour of the Outer Solar System”. Due to budget and other concerns, the missions were whittled down, but still took advantage of a rare planetary alignment to study the outer solar system before heading into interstellar space.
Both carried a copy of the Golden Record, a 12-inch/ 30 centimeter diameter gold-plated copper disc that contained a message from humanity to space including examples of life on Earth, greetings, and music as well as instructions on how to play the samples.
Both spacecraft weighed 1,592 pounds (721.9 kilograms) and were launched on top of a Titan IIIE-Centaur rocket. This rocket system was also used to launch the Viking probes and the Helios spacecraft. Voyager 1’s mission focused on studying Jupiter and Saturn before launching toward interstellar space while Voyager 2 completed more of the Grand Tour of the Outer Solar System originally proposed for the project, targeting Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Netprune before launching into interstellar space.
Despite being named Voyager 2, it actually launched earlier on August 20, 1977, versus Voyager 1’s launch date of September 5th, 1977, and is still the only spacecraft to have studied all four of our solar system’s gas giants at close range.
Mission Log of Relevant Key Dates for Voyager 1:
September 5, 1977
February 10th, 1979
Officially crossed into the Jovian moon system
Jupiter imaging mission began when it was about 165 million miles (265 million kilometers) from the planet
March 5th, 1979
Jupiter flyby closest encounter
About 174,000 miles (280,000 kilometers) from the cloud tops and studied multiple moons on the way
Mission Log of Relevant Key Dates for Voyager 2:
August 20, 1977
December 15, 1977
Passed by Voyager 1
Meaning Voyager 1 actually exited the asteroid belt earlier
April 24, 1979
Began transmitting images of Jupiter, and made close passes to the Jovian moons
July 9, 1979
Jupiter flyby and gravity assist and course correction 2 hours later
Closest approach at a range of about 400,785 miles (645,000 kilometers)
Launch to Jupiter was 1 year and 6 months for Voyager 1 and about 1 year and 11 months for Voyager 2. However, we need to keep in mind that Jupiter was not the final destination for either probe. Both Voyager spacecraft reached a speed of 17 km/ sec with the aid of gravity assists.
In terms of Jupiter, Voyager 1’s discovered a thin ring and 2 new moons (Thebe and Metis) while Voyager 2 discovered a 14th moon at Jupiter.
Galileo was dispatched to study Jupiter in depth by settling into its orbit, but also performing up-close observations of two asteroids along the way, making it the first to do both.
Weighing 4,902 pounds (2,223 kilograms), it launched on the Space Shuttle Atlantis which reached the speed for orbit–nearly 7,850 m/s (17,500 mph). Due to this launch and the amount of fuel, the flight path included multiple gravity assists at Venus and Earth (nicknamed “VEEGA” for Venus-Earth-Earth Gravity Assist) to build up enough speed to get to Jupiter.
Mission Log of Relevant Key Dates:
October 18, 1989
Over 14,000 km/h (9,000 mph) from Atlantis
February 10, 1990
Venus Flyby and gravity assist
Altitude of 10,000 miles (16,000 km)
December 8, 1990
First Earth Flyby and gravity assis
Altitude of 597 miles (960 km)
October 29, 1991
Asteroid Gaspra Flyby
At about 1,000 miles (1,601 kilometers); first ever close observations of an asteroid
December 8, 1992
Second Earth flyby and gravity assist
August 28, 1993
Asteroid Ida Flyby
Close approach of about 1,400 miles (2,400 km), during which it discovers the first known moon orbiting an asteroid, later named Dactyl
July 22, 1994
Observations of Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 fragments impacting Jupiter
December 7, 1995
Jupiter arrival and orbit insertion AND Probe atmospheric entry and relay
Probe descends into Jupiter’s atmosphere, transmitting data for almost an hour
September 7, 1996
Observations of Europa
Data supports the idea that there is an ocean of liquid water beneath its ice surface
September 19, 1997
Observations of Io
December 3, 2000
Joint observations with Cassini
September 21, 2003
Entered Jupiter’s atmosphere at a speed of 106,000 miles per hour (47 kilometers per second) — equivalent of traveling from Los Angeles to New York City in 82 seconds
Launch to Jupiter was just under 6 years and 2 months for Galileo, factoring in the multiple gravity assists and other missions prior to arriving at Jupiter. Since its destination was Jupiter, as opposed to simply a flyby for its actual destination as with previous spacecraft, Galileo serves as a good comparison for a trip to Jupiter with 2 major caveats: the state of technology by its launch date of 1989 and the asteroid flybys which added time.
Galileo completed 34 orbits of Jupiter and multiple flybys of moons including Io, Callisto, Ganymede, Europa, and Amalthea. Its primary mission ended in December 1997, but was extended to include three additional missions, ultimately ending in 2003.
It was the first spacecraft to:
- orbit an outer planet
- Deploy an entry probe into an outer planet’s atmosphere
- Complete the first flyby and imaging of an asteroid (Gaspra, and later, Ida)
- Complete a direct observation of a comet colliding with a planet’s atmosphere (Shoemaker-Levy 9) and is still the only one to do so
- Operate in a giant planet magnetosphere long enough to identify its global structure and to investigate its dynamics
Ulysses was a joint ESA-NASA mission focused on studying the Sun, completing three orbits in over 18 years, and greatly enhancing our understanding of our star and its effects on our system. The probe was 818 pounds (371 kilograms) and utilized a unique trajectory that used a gravity assist from Jupiter to take it back and pass the solar South Pole before flying up to the North Pole.
Launching from the cargo bay of Space Shuttle Discovery on October 6, 1990, about 7.5 hours after launch from Kennedy, Ulysses went into a heliocentric orbit, creating an escape velocity of about 10 miles per second (15.4 kilometers per second).
Ulysses arrived at Jupiter for a gravity assist on February 8, 1992, meaning a travel time of 1 year and 4 months. The gravity assist took the probe within about 235,000 miles (378,400 kilometers) of Jupiter and allowed for a 17-day study of the system before heading back to the Sun.
Cassini was launched for long-term observations of Saturn. The Cassini orbiter weighed 4,685 pounds (2,125 kilograms) and sat on top of a Titan IV-B rocket which was part of the Titan IV family of heavy-life space launch vehicles.
Mission Log of Relevant Key Dates:
October 15, 1997
April 25, 1998
1st Venus flyby and gravity assist maneuver
Accelerated Cassini by about 4 miles per second (7 km per second or 14,400 mph (23,175 km per hour)
June 24, 1999
2nd Venus flyby and gravity assist maneuver
Traveling at 8.5 miles per second (13.6 kilometers per second) or 30,523 mph (49,122 km per hour)
August 17, 1999
Earth flyby and gravity assist
5.5-kilometer-per-second (about 12,000-mile-per-hour) boost
December 1999-April 2000
Traveled through the asteroid belt
December 30, 2000
Flew by Jupiter at 7.2 miles per second (11.6 kilometers per second) or 25,920 mph (41,714 km per hour)
In total, it took Cassini Huygens 3 years and 2.5 months to reach Jupiter. Cassini-Huygens revolutionized our understanding of Saturn and its planetary system over its 20 years in space and 13 in the Saturn system.
Cassini’s observations of Jupiter mainly focused on bettering our understanding of its atmosphere, magnetosphere, satellites, and rings.
The 2nd mission under NASA’s New Frontiers Program, which also includes New Horizons, focuses on studying our largest planet and its planetary system. Weighing 7,992 pounds (3,625 kilograms), Juno launched into space on an Atlas V 551 rocket (Atlas first stage with five solid rocket boosters, Centaur upper stage).
About an hour after launch, it separated from the Centaur and began extending its solar panels for energy collection.
Mission Log of Relevant Key Dates:
August 5, 2011
August 30 and September 14, 2012
Deep Space Maneuvers
Lined the spacecraft up for the upcoming Earth gravity assist
October 9, 2013
Earth Flyby and gravity assist
boosts Juno’s velocity by 16,330 miles per hour (about 7.3 kilometers per second), placing the spacecraft on its final trajectory for Jupiter; closest approach at an altitude of 311 miles (500 kilometers)
July 1-5, 2016
Jupiter Orbit Insertion Phase with official insertion occurring on the 4th
Jupiter’s gravity accelerated Juno to around 210,000 km/h (130,000 mph) so Juno performed a main engine burn for 35 minutes at closest approach to decelerate by 542 m/s (1,780 ft/s), allowing it to settle into orbit
Continuing and expanding on previous research to better understand the largest planet in the solar system and its planetary system; gathering data to better prepare future missions including Juice Europa Clipper missions
Proposed mission end date
From launch to orbit insertion, Juno took just under 5 years to reach Jupiter, and its mission to understand the mysteries of the Jovian system is still underway, over a decade later. Juno provides the best one-to-one comparison with a past mission as it is a recent mission with Jupiter as its destination, which therefore includes calculations for slowing down for orbit insertion.
Juno’s top speed was recorded at 165,000 mph (265,542 km per hour) while traveling through space and being pulled in by Jupiter’s gravity in addition to its velocity achieved by launch, gravity assists, and propulsion systems.
The New Horizons spacecraft’s mission is focused on the dwarf planet Pluto, its moons, and the Kuiper Belt, an icy asteroid belt past Neptune. It is often cited in estimations of space travel because it’s one of the most recent and therefore most advanced propulsion systems, particularly when considering travel to the outer solar system.
The New Horizons spacecraft weighed 1,054 pounds (478 kilograms) and utilized the Atlas V 551 launch vehicle. It was the first mission in NASA’s New Frontiers program.
New Horizons launched on January 19, 2006, and after reaching initial Earth orbit, accelerated the spacecraft to a velocity of about 10.1 miles per second (16.26 km/ s) or 36,400 miles per hour (58,536 kilometers per hour), the highest launch velocity attained by a human-made object relative to Earth.
Mission Log of Relevant Key Dates:
January 19, 2006
January 28, January 30, and March 9, 2006
April 7, 2006
Passed the orbit of Mars
June 13, 2006
Test of instruments on a tiny asteroid named 132524 APL
At a range of about 63,300 miles (101,867 kilometers)
February 28, 2007
Closest approach with Jupiter, studying the planet and its system from January to May; gravity assist
Increased the spacecraft’s velocity by about 9,000 miles per hour (14,000 kilometers per hour), shortening its trip to Pluto by three years
July 14, 2015
January 1, 2019
Flyby of Kuiper Belt Object Arrokoth
The New Horizons mission provided us with the first close observations of the famous dwarf planet as well as the Kuiper Belt.
New Horizons reached Jupiter in just over 13 months, breaking the record. However, while New Horizons did perform a gravity assist and utilized the time in the planetary system to take observations, Jupiter was not its final destination and therefore not a one-to-one comparison for travel time.
Ongoing and Upcoming Missions
ESA’s Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer (Juice) launched on April 14th, 2023 to make detailed observations of the largest planet and its three ocean-bearing moons (Ganymede, Callisto, and Europa) to better understand the planetary system and these moons as possible habitats.
Weighing approximately 6000 kg, the spacecraft was launched atop the Ariane 5 rocket from French Guiana. Ariane 5 has launched numerous ESA missions since 1999 including the James Webb Space Telescope and Juice will be the last to launch with it as Ariane 6 will be taking over. Ariane 5 launched Juice into space at a speed of 1.56 miles per second (2.5 km/s) or 5,592 mph (9,000 km per hour).
Juice is scheduled to take approximately 7.5 years to fly to Jupiter with a Lunar-Earth Flyby in August 2024, a Venus flyby in August 2025, an Earth flyby in September 2026, and a second Earth flyby in January 2029, reaching Jupiter in July 2031.
After 35 icy moon flybys, Juice will perform an orbit insertion around Ganymede, making it the first spacecraft to ever orbit a moon in the outer solar system in 2034. The Lunar-Earth gravity assist (LEGA) is also a first for humanity which will include a gravity assist flyby of the Moon followed 1.5 days later by one of Earth to help launch the spacecraft to greater speed and greatly reduce the amount of fuel needed for the trip to Jupiter.
While Juice will focus primarily on Ganymede, NASA’s Europa Clipper mission will focus on Europa with similar goals of better understanding Jupiter’s planetary mission and a primary focus of better understanding the icy water moons that may potentially be able to harbor life.
Weighing approximately 13,000 pounds (6,000 kilograms), Europa Clipper will launch on a SpaceX Falcon Heavy. The majority of Falcon Heavy launches have been to test the systems though a few communication satellites and orbiters have been launched.
Falcon Heavy is currently contracted to launch the Psyche orbiter mission in October 2023. Falcon Heavy will support commercial missions for the Artemis program including the elements of the Lunar Gateway as well as the Viper Lunar Rover in 2024.
Europa Clipper is currently scheduled to launch in October 2024 with a scheduled Mars gravity assist in February 2025 and an Earth gravity assist in December 2026 with a planned Jupiter Orbit Insertion for April 2030.
Europa Clipper will take approximately 5 and a half years to reach Jupiter. It will spend about a year prepping for its Europa observations and then three years performing about 45 flybys of Europa with the goal of scanning almost the entire moon.
General Estimate for Probes
As we have seen, the travel time to Jupiter greatly depends on the route, launch vehicle, gravity assists, and method of arrival. In addition, speed is not always the primary concern. We often want to utilize the trip to study other astronomical bodies.
We also factor in the cost and weight of fuel, generally opting for more gravity assists from planetary flybys as opposed to simply launching from Earth and using the propulsion system to make adjustments.
Especially factoring in the ongoing Juice mission and the upcoming Europa Clipper mission which utilizes current rocket technology and flight path maneuvers, it takes between 5 and 8 years to reach Jupiter if it is our final destination.
Parker Solar Probe
The Parker Solar Probe currently holds the record for the fastest spacecraft at 364,745 mph 587,000 km/hr in 2021. Theoretically, at its 2021 speed, Parker could reach Saturn in about 55 days, but part of the reason Parker’s speed is so high is that it is falling into the Sun’s gravity versus trying to escape it so this speed wouldn’t actually be achievable on a trip to Jupiter.
None of these missions has had human occupants. We need to go slower to accommodate our fragile bodies. In fact, the fastest that humans have ever traveled in space is 24,791 mph (39,897 km/ hr), which was achieved by the returning Apollo 10 astronauts in May 1969.
It takes an average of 6 hours to three days for astronauts to travel on a Soyuz rocket to the International Space Station which sits at an altitude of about 253 miles (408 km). However, SpaceX launches to the ISS currently average 24 hours with the SpaceX Crew-4 mission in May of 2022, clocking in at less than 16 hours.
The new NASA SLS system designed to bring humans back to the moon has a top speed of over 6 miles/9.7 km per second which roughly equates to over 21,600 mph or 34,920 km/hr, but that may change as the missions continue to develop and as technology continues to improve in both engines and protecting the human body.
Since the SLS current max speed is about 35% of the speed of the Voyagers, a spacecraft with humans onboard would likely take 6-9 years to reach Jupiter. It is important to remember that the ongoing and upcoming missions to return humans to the moon also prepares us to go to Mars by the 2040s. These future missions will help us adapt and innovate to further innovate human exploration of the solar system.
Theoretical Light Speed
Finally, light from the sun takes about 43 minutes on average to travel to Jupiter, so if in the future we could travel at the speed of light, which the current understanding of physics says is an impossibility for anything besides light, it would be about a 43-minute trip.
Jupiter sits at an average distance of 484 million miles (778 million kilometers). The calculation is highly dependent on the speed achieved, the route, the number of “stops”, the number of gravity assists, and the approach procedure in which we slow down. Do we go straight to Jupiter or utilize gravity assist maneuvers from other planets, especially to save on fuel?
Based on previous spacecraft missions to Jupiter (with Jupiter as the final destination, a “stop”, or a landmark on the journey to other planets), we’ve seen a range of answers with most being about 2-5 years. Recently launched and upcoming missions are currently scheduled for 5-8 years utilizing multiple gravity assists to reduce fuel.
For humans, it would likely take closer to 6-9 years to safely travel there due to what our bodies can withstand, but that number will likely decrease due to innovations by the time we are actually considering sending a human to the famous fifth planet or one of its moons.
If one thing is clear from calculating the time it would take to get to Saturn, it is that human ingenuity allows us to accomplish amazing feats and surpass even what were once our greatest achievements. Within the next decade or two, this timetable could be very different, and that is the beauty of scientific progress.
Sarah Hoffschwelle is a freelance writer who covers a combination of topics including astronomy, general science and STEM, self-development, art, and societal commentary. In the past, Sarah worked in educational nonprofits providing free-choice learning experiences for audiences ages 2-99. As a lifelong space nerd, she loves sharing the universe with others through her words. She currently writes on Medium at https://medium.com/@sarah-marie and authors self-help and children’s books.