The European space probe JUICE is set to launch on a long research trip to Jupiter on Thursday. The probe will be on its way to the largest planet in our solar system for eight years – there it will focus mainly on its icy moons up close. JUICE (Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer), the European Space Agency’s flagship mission, is scheduled to launch from the European Space Agency’s Kourou spaceport in French Guiana on an Ariane 5 rocket.
The probe, developed by Airbus and weighing more than six tons, with its ten scientific instruments, will first be launched at an altitude of 1,500 kilometers before being launched into orbit, explained Arianespace project manager Véronique Loisel. Then the probe’s complex journey begins to its destination 628 million km from Earth. Since it lacks the energy for a direct route to Jupiter, it has to use complex maneuvers to replenish its kinetic energy.
Get the momentum for a long ride
First, JUICE flies past the Moon and Earth again, then bypasses Venus and returns twice toward Earth. Only then should the momentum be enough to reach Jupiter and its icy moons in 2031, which Galileo Galilei discovered 400 years ago.
On its way, the probe has to endure temperature fluctuations between plus 250 degrees – when flying past Venus near the Sun – and minus 230 degrees – near Jupiter. Among other things, a new type of insulation consisting of several layers aims to ensure the stability of the temperature inside and therefore also in scientific instruments.
Another challenge is energy conservation, because sunlight on Jupiter is 25 times weaker than on Earth. So JUICE is equipped with solar panels the size of a basketball court (85 square metres).
After reaching Jupiter, JUICE will swing around in its orbit. From there, the probe will examine the giant planet, its moon Io – the most volcanically active celestial body in our solar system – and the three icy moons Europa, Ganymede and Callisto.
Take a look at Ganymede too…
In 2034, things will get exciting again when the probe enters the orbit of Ganymede – an absolute first. The largest moon in our solar system, which is also the only one with a magnetic field that shields it from radiation, is an ideal candidate for the search for life in space.
Like Europa, Ganymede’s icy crust hides a vast ocean of liquid water – and water is essential to life. Instruments aboard the JUICE should enable scientists to measure the ocean and determine its composition – to see if it could harbor life such as primitive microorganisms.
The data collected will be supplemented by data from NASA’s Europa Clipper probe, which will launch in 2024 to inspect Europa’s moon. JUICE is the first European mission to penetrate the outer solar system, launching after Mars. Its costs amount to about 1.6 billion euros. Austria is one of the 23 countries that participated in JUICE. The Institute for Space Research (IWF) of the Austrian Academy of Sciences (ÖAW) in Graz is involved in three instruments. In collaboration with the Institute of Experimental Physics at Graz University of Technology (TU), IWF researchers have developed a new quantum interference magnetometer.
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