April 14th, 2023
The Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer, JUICE, is on its way to the solar system’s largest planet to study three of its four Galilean moons.
Liftoff atop the penultimate Ariane 5 rocket occurred at 8:14 a.m. EST (12:14 UTC) April 14, 2023, from the Guiana Space Centre in South America. The spacecraft separated from the rocket’s upper stage some 30 minutes after launch to begin an eight-year trek to Jupiter where it will study Ganymede, Callisto and Europa.
“ESA, with its international partners, is on its way to Jupiter,” ESA Director General Josef Aschbacher said in a news release. “Juice’s spectacular launch carries with it the vision and ambition of those who conceived the mission decades ago, the skill and passion of everyone who has built this incredible machine, the drive of our flight operations team, and the curiosity of the global science community. Together, we will keep pushing the boundaries of science and exploration in order to answer humankind’s biggest questions.”
JUICE has a launch mass of 13,146 pounds (5,963 kilograms), including some 8,000 pounds (3,600 kilograms) of fuel for spacecraft maneuvers. Its two solar panels, which extend to more than 88 feet (27 meters), produce 820 watts of power.
During its eight-year trajectory, JUICE will fly by several other bodies for gravity assists. This includes a flyby of the Earth-Moon system in August 2024, Venus in August 2025, a second Earth flyby in September 2026 and a third in January 2029. It should arrive at the Jovian system in July 2031.
Over its first three years at Jupiter, the spacecraft will fly by and study the three icy Galilean moons as well as the giant planet’s magnetosphere. In December 2034, it is expected that JUICE will enter an elliptical orbit around Ganymede, making it the first spacecraft to orbit a moon other than Earth’s.
Ultimately, JUICE is expected to settle into a circular orbit of roughly 310 miles (500 kilometers) above the moon’s surface to study its composition and magnetosphere.
Eventually, when the spacecraft nears the end of its propellent reserves, it’ll be deorbited to impact Ganymede’s surface, likely around the end of 2035.
“It is thanks to the leadership of ESA and the effort and commitment of hundreds of European industries and scientific institutions that the Juice mission has become a reality,” said Giuseppe Sarri, ESA’ s Juice project manager. “Together with our partners NASA, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency and the Israel Space Agency, who have also contributed hardware or scientific instrumentation, we have reached this much-awaited launch milestone.”
Video courtesy of ESA
Derek Richardson has a degree in mass media, with an emphasis in contemporary journalism, from Washburn University in Topeka, Kansas. While at Washburn, he was the managing editor of the student run newspaper, the Washburn Review. He also has a website about human spaceflight called Orbital Velocity.