Europe’s First Mission to Jupiter Poised for Launch From South America


The European Space Agency’s Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer, or JUICE, spacecraft is buttoned up for launch inside the payload fairing of an Ariane 5 rocket. The illustration on the Ariane 5 payload fairing was the winning submission in a children’s art competition, drawn by eight-year-old Yaryna  from Ukraine. Credit:
ESA-Manuel Pedoussaut

The European Space Agency’s $1.7 billion robotic Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer mission is ready for liftoff Thursday from French Guiana, beginning an eight-year cruise to the solar system’s largest planet before becoming the first-ever spacecraft to orbit one of Jupiter’s moons in the 2030s.

The mission, known by the acronym JUICE, carries a high-resolution mapping camera and ground-penetrating radar to map the frozen landscapes of three of Jupiter’s largest moons — Ganymede, Callisto, and Europa — and a suite of spectrometers to measure the composition of their icy crusts. After launch, the JUICE spacecraft will deploy an insect-like array of antennas and booms with sensors to study particles and dynamic plasma fields around Jupiter and its moons.

“We’ll explore Jupiter and its icy moons, which are Europa, Ganymede and Callisto, with a particular focus on Ganymede, which is a unique object in the solar system, the only moon with a magnetic field and the biggest moon of the solar system,” said Olivier Witasse, project scientist for the JUICE mission at the European Space Agency. “The main goal is to understand whether there are habitable environments among those icy moons around a giant planet like Jupiter.”

Scientists believe Europa, Ganymede, and Callisto harbor oceans of liquid water beneath their icy crusts.

“We will characterize, in particular, the liquid water oceans which are inside the icy moons,” Witasse said. “So the question is, where are those oceans located, at which distance underneath the surface of the moons, what is the depth of this ocean? How much water do we have? What is the composition of this water?”

JUICE has 10 science instruments developed by research teams across Europe, the United States, and Japan. According to ESA, the mission is outfitted with “the most powerful remote sensing, geophysical, and in situ payload complement ever flown to the outer solar system.”

An Italian-led radar sounded will probe he icy crust covering Jupiter’s moons, revealing structures as deep as 6 miles (9 kilometers) under the surface. JUICE’s main camera will take pictures of Jupiter’s cloud patterns, rings, and the chaotic and cratered terrain of Europa, Callisto, and Ganymede.

“To understand this question of habitability, we need to explore the Jupiter system globally,” Witasse said. “So to study Jupiter, its atmosphere, its weather, its strong rotating magnetic field, the volcanic moon Io, the other moons in the system, and how all these bodies are connected to to each other.”

Built by Airbus, the JUICE spacecraft is enclosed within the nose cone of an Arianespace Ariane 5 launcher for liftoff at 8:15:01 a.m. EDT (1215:01 UTC) from the Guiana Space Center, the European-run spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana. The Ariane 5 will vault off the launch pad with 2.9 million pounds of thrust from its hydrogen-fueled main engine and two side-mounted solid rocket boosters.

The European rocket is making its penultimate flight with the JUICE spacecraft. A final Ariane 5 launch with two communications satellite is scheduled for June, then the workhorse rocket will be retired in favor of Europe’s new-generation Ariane 6 rocket, which is still in development.

The Ariane 5 is one of the most powerful operational rockets in the world, with 115 missions to its credit, including the historic launch of the James Webb Space Telescope on Christmas Day 2021.

The JUICE spacecraft inside a clean room at the Guiana Space Center. Credit: ESA/CNES/Arianespace/P. Baudon

The 13,141-pound (5,961-kilogram) JUICE spacecraft will ride the Ariane 5 rocket for nearly 28 minutes, getting enough of a velocity boost to escape Earth’s gravity and head off into the solar system. After separating from the Ariane 5’s upper stage, JUICE will contact a ground station and unfurl its two power-generating solar array wings, each arranged in a distinctive cross-like formation.

The solar panels are the largest ever built for an interplanetary spacecraft, stretching nearly 89 feet (27.1 meters) tip to tip with an area of 915 square feet (85 square meters). Their large size will allow JUICE to generate enough power for the spacecraft and its science instruments at Jupiter, around five times farther from the sun than Earth. The spacecraft’s 23,560 solar cells will generate 850 watts of power.

“At Earth, such a (solar array) surface area could power an entire road of houses, but at Jupiter, it can power a single microwave just once,” ESA officials wrote in the JUICE press kit.

Ground controllers at ESA’s spacecraft operations center in Darmstadt, Germany, will oversee JUICE’s cruise to Jupiter. The first 17 days after launch will include a series of instrument, antenna, and boom deployments.

“JUICE is a spacecraft has taken the better part of the past decade to be designed and developed, and is now ready for launch on top of the Ariane 5 launcher,” said Alessandro Atzei, ESA’s payload system engineer for the JUICE mission. “So we’re talking about rather large spacecraft with many key features that really are striking. The very large high gain antenna, the huge solar arrays, 85 square meters, and many, many deployable booms. So just after launch, it will be a lot of work to make sure that everything gets deployed properly so we can start our mission.”

ESA selected the JUICE mission for development in 2012, beating out proposals for an X-ray astrophysics observatory and a gravitational wave detector mission in a competition for funding in the agency’s Cosmic Vision space science program.

Source: spaceflightnow