Europe will target Jupiter in April

The Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer (JUICE), a European orbiter responsible for probing the Jupiter system, is ready to be sent to French Guiana for its launch in April, its manufacturer Airbus has just announced. Launched by an Ariane 5 rocket, the probe will arrive on site in the early 2030s.

JUICE (Jupiter Icy Moon Explorer) is the European Space Agency’s (ESA) next deep space mission. Its objective will be to study the Jovian system in greater depth. The probe will therefore focus on Jupiter, but also and above all on three of its most interesting moons: Europa, Ganymede and Callisto. These three moons are indeed likely to harbor an underground liquid ocean nestled under their thick icy layer. JUICE will investigate their potential habitability for microbial life.

Ganymede – the largest moon in the solar system – will be the main target of the JUICE mission. The probe will be placed around the moon from 2034 to carry out two large flybys at around 400 km above the two hemispheres. ESA plans to crash into it at the end of 2035 once the fuel reserves are exhausted.

To operate, JUICE is equipped with a dozen instruments, including cameras, an ice-penetrating radar, a radio science experiment, an ultraviolet spectrograph and sensors to measure altitude and other data.

Direction Guyana

On the technical side, the Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer (JUICE) is in final assembly and testing phase for almost a year and a half in the south of France. Final preparations included the integration of a huge solar panel of 85 square meters. Developed by German spacecraft Azur, it will ensure that the ship has enough power as far from the Sun.

Airbus, chosen as prime contractor in 2015, is set to ship JUICE in early February to the Arianespace launch pad in Kourou, French Guiana, where it is expected to launch on one of the final two rockets. Ariadne 5 (Ariane 6 will take over later). Nearly 500 Airbus employees and more than 80 companies across Europe will have collaborated to prepare the spacecraft for its great journey to the Jovian system.

Ganymede photographed by the Juno probe in 2022. The largest moon in the solar system will be the main target of the JUICE mission. Credits: NASA

Finally, remember that NASA is preparing a similar mission called Europa Clipper. As its name suggests, the probe will focus primarily on the moon Europa. The agency plans forty overflights. Its launch is scheduled for next year aboard a SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket. However, the mission will arrive before JUICE, probably in 2030.

After a few years of operations, Europa Clipper will not end its journey in Jupiter’s atmosphere as originally planned. Like JUICE, it will crash into Ganymede.

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