Juice’s journey to Jupiter

JUICE will reach Jupiter in 2031 following an eight-year journey, but to get there it’ll need to receive four gravity boosts from Earth and Venus. Excitingly, the spacecraft’s flyby of the Earth-Moon system, a maneuver known as a Lunar-Earth gravity assist (LEGA), has never been attempted before. As ESA explains, JUICE will first get a gravitational assist from the Moon and then a second from Earth some 1.5 days later, in a maneuver meant to “save a significant amount of propellant.”

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The search for potentially habitable conditions is key

The search for potentially habitable conditions is key

Ice-covered Europa, as imaged by the Galileo probe.
Ice-covered Europa, as imaged by the Galileo probe.
Photo: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SETI Institute

Europa, Ganymede, and Callisto are all suspected of containing subsurface oceans capped in an icy crust. JUICE will evaluate the trio for potential signs of habitability, given the assumed presence of liquid water. Indeed, and as ESA makes clear, the overarching question of the mission is whether gas giants can harbor habitable conditions and spawn primitive life. In addition to its astrobiological duties, JUICE will seek to answer questions about planetary formation and the solar system in general. More conceptually, the spacecraft will evaluate the “wider Jupiter system as an archetype for gas giants across the Universe,” according to ESA.

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It’ll be the first spacecraft to orbit a moon in the outer solar system

It’ll be the first spacecraft to orbit a moon in the outer solar system

A view of Ganymede, as imaged by the Juno probe.
A view of Ganymede, as imaged by the Juno probe.
Image: NASA

JUICE is scheduled to perform 35 Jovian moon flybys, but the mission will end with the spacecraft settling into a circular orbit around Ganymede, where it will work for an estimated six months and come as close as 311 miles (500 km) to its surface. By doing so, “Juice will be the first spacecraft to ever orbit a moon in the outer Solar System,” ESA claims. The space agency chose a good target, as Ganymede, the biggest moon in the solar system, is the only known moon to exhibit its own magnetic field, which causes it to interact with the Jovian environment in unique ways.

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The probe features the largest solar array sent to deep space

The probe features the largest solar array sent to deep space

An engineer working on JUICE’s solar panels.
An engineer working on JUICE’s solar panels.
Photo: Airbus Defence and Space Netherlands

ESA approved the JUICE mission in 2012 as part of its Cosmic Vision science program. Airbus Defence and Space built the probe, which features an 8.2-foot-long (2.5-meter) high gain antenna and 10 solar panels. When unfurled, the solar panels will total 915 square feet (85 square meters) in size, making it the largest array to ever be deployed for an interplanetary mission, according to ESA. The panels, even when so far from the Sun, will power the probe and its instruments with 850 Watts of power.

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The probe will have a distinctive shape

The probe will have a distinctive shape

Image for article titled What to Know About the JUICE Mission to Jupiter and Its Frozen Moons
Image: ESA/ATG Medialab

The 10 carbon fiber-reinforced honeycomb panels will unfold once JUICE gets to space, and when they do, they’ll create two cross-like shapes, one on each side of the probe. The two solar arrays will deploy some 50 minutes after launch, in a process that should take about one minute. The medium-gain antenna, which will emerge 16 hours into the mission, will be used during the flybys of the moons and also link the probe to controllers on Earth when the spacecraft’s larger antenna is being leveraged as a sunshield.

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JUICE is fully loaded for interplanetary action

JUICE is fully loaded for interplanetary action

Image for article titled What to Know About the JUICE Mission to Jupiter and Its Frozen Moons
Graphic: ESA/ATG

The 10 instruments coming along for the ride comprise the “most powerful remote sensing, geophysical and in situ [sensors for gathering data in JUICE’s immediate environment] payload complement ever flown to the outer Solar System,” ESA claims. Both NASA and Japan’s space agency contributed to this diverse suite of tools. Specific capabilities include optical and spectral imaging, sensors for exploring the moons’ surface and subsurface features, and instruments for measuring magnetic fields and radio and plasma waves.

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JUICE is fully loaded for interplanetary action

JUICE is fully loaded for interplanetary action

A Juno view of Jupiter with Ganymede casting a dark shadow on its upper atmosphere.
A Juno view of Jupiter with Ganymede casting a dark shadow on its upper atmosphere.
Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS/Thomas Thomopoulos

“Juice’s cameras will capture exquisite details of the moon’s features, as well as identify the ices and minerals on their surfaces,” writes ESA in its press kit. “Other instruments will sound the subsurface and interior of the moons to better understand the location and nature of their buried oceans. The tenuous atmosphere around the moons will also be explored.”

JUICE is also traveling with a science experiment that leverages the probe’s communication system with ground-based telescopes on Earth, which will help controllers to determine the spacecraft’s position and velocity.

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A special plaque is coming along for the ride

A special plaque is coming along for the ride

The plaque as it appears on JUICE.
The plaque as it appears on JUICE.
Image: ESA/M.Pedoussaut

Italian astronomer Galileo Galilei was the first scientist to view Jupiter and its four largest moons through a telescope, which he did in 1610. In honor of the famed astronomer, ESA has prepared a commemorative plaque featuring imagery of Galilei’s first observations of Jupiter, as recorded in his Sidereus Nuncius manuscript (see below).

Image for article titled What to Know About the JUICE Mission to Jupiter and Its Frozen Moons
Image: INAF–Istituto Nazionale di Astrofisica
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JUICE will complement another planned journey to Jupiter

JUICE will complement another planned journey to Jupiter

Artist’s conception of Europa Clipper.
Artist’s conception of Europa Clipper.
Image: NASA

Jupiter is very hot right now, as JUICE is one of three planned missions to the gas giant, including Lucy. NASA’s Europa Clipper is set to launch in October 2024, but as NASA program scientist Curt Niebur explained in a statement in 2017, the two missions will complement each other. “The missions are like close members of the same family. Together they will explore the entire Jovian system,” he explained. “Clipper is focused on Europa and determining its habitability. JUICE is looking for a broader understanding how the entire group of Galilean satellites formed and evolved.” Europa Clipper is expected to arrive at Jupiter in April 2030.

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