The Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer spacecraft, or “Juice” for short, is now on its way through space. This Friday at 14:14 CEST, the probe lifted off from the Kourou Cosmodrome in French Guiana on board an Ariane 5 rocket. The first attempt to start on Thursday was canceled due to a thunderstorm warning.
Since the upper stage of Ariane 5 was separated as planned at around 2:42 p.m., Juice has been traveling alone in space. The first signals from the probe arrived from space at the New Norcia receiving station in Australia a few minutes later than planned.
By just after 3:30 p.m., Juice had successfully deployed its solar panels, a key requirement for the mission’s success. Although Juice has lithium-ion batteries on board, their energy only lasts for a few hours. The solar panels with 85 m2 area – about half a volleyball field – have an electrical output of 900 watts.
Estimated mission end 2035
Juice is scheduled to reach the Jovian system in July 2031 after flybys of Earth and Venus and with its ten instruments on board will take particular care of Jupiter’s three moons Ganymede, Callisto and Europa and the conditions for life they may provide. Along with Io, they are the four Galilean moons discovered by the Italian explorer Galileo Galilei in 1610.
After flybys of the moons Ganymede, Europa and Callisto, Juice 2034 is to be maneuvered into orbit around Ganymede and explore this moon. A polar orbit around Ganymede at an altitude of 500 km is planned for the final phase of the mission. If the mission is extended, Juice will be placed in a 200 km orbit. Juice should then no longer be able to leave the gravitational field of the moon and hit Ganymede.
In addition to ESA, the US space agency NASA and its Japanese counterpart JAXA are also participating in the program. According to the German Aerospace Center, Germany contributes 21 percent to financing the costs of developing and building the platform, launching and operating JUICE. In addition, around 100 million euros flow into the German contributions to seven of the ten scientific instruments on the spacecraft. The mission is monitored in the ESA control center in Darmstadt.