Ariane 5 parts are coming together in the launch vehicle integration building (BIL) at Europe’s Spaceport in French Guiana in preparation for the launch of ESA’s Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer (Juice). In this picture, the rocket’s central core is being hoisted onto the launch table. The launch table is used to transport the Ariane 5 between the BIL, the final assembly building and the launch pad.
The engineer in the centre of the image gives some idea of the size of this core stage – measuring 5.4 m in diameter and 30.5 m tall, it is comparable to the trunk of a large oak tree. At launch it will contain 175 t of liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen propellants. With its Vulcain 2 engine it provides 140 t of thrust.
This week two boosters will be positioned on the launch table and anchored on either side of the core stage. Each booster measures 3 m in diameter and 31 m high. Following anchoring, engineers will carry out mechanical and electrical checks. The proper functioning of these boosters is vital to get Juice into space – each contains 240 t of solid propellant, and together they provide 90 percent of the thrust at liftoff.
On the countdown to launch, the Ariane 5’s Vulcain 2 engine is ignited first. A few seconds later, when it reaches its nominal operating level, the two boosters are fired to achieve a thrust of about 1364 t at liftoff.
Juice is humankind’s next bold mission to the outer Solar System. It will make detailed observations of gas giant Jupiter and its three large ocean-bearing moons – Ganymede, Callisto and Europa. This ambitious mission will characterise these moons with a powerful suite of remote sensing, geophysical and in situ instruments to discover more about these compelling destinations as potential habitats for past or present life. Juice will monitor Jupiter’s complex magnetic, radiation and plasma environment in depth and its interplay with the moons, studying the Jupiter system as an archetype for gas giant systems across the Universe.
These activities mark the beginning of a six-week campaign to prepare the Ariane 5 for launch on 13 April. It runs in parallel with teams preparing Juice for launch, which started three weeks earlier. On 1 April Juice will be placed onto the Ariane 5 before being encapsulated on 4 April. The whole system will be rolled out onto the launch pad on 11 April.