Wednesday, March 8, 2023

JUICE, the first European spacecraft to visit Jupiter

European-based company Airbus is ready to take on a key role in another important new space venture: a flight to Jupiter that is set to start this spring.

Known as the Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer, or JUICE, the mission will be the first European spacecraft to visit the gas giant planet. Its primary goal is to understand whether the oceans of Jupiter’s icy moons could sustain life.

JUICE will spend over eight years traveling 600 million kilometers to reach our solar system’s largest planet. Its instruments will focus on three of Jupiter’s biggest moons: Ganymede, Europa, and Callisto.

To reveal more about this fascinating planet and its natural satellites, JUICE’s “eyes” and “ears” are composed of 10 state-of-the-art scientific instruments, including cameras, spectrometers, an ice-penetrating radar, a radio-science experiment, and sensors.

Once in the vicinity of Jupiter, JUICE will spend four years gathering data – including nine months orbiting Ganymede. This will mark the first time a spacecraft orbits a moon other than our own. JUICE will investigate this icy Jovian moon’s nature and evolution, characterizing its subsurface ocean, and investigating potential habitability.

JUICE will also focus on Jupiter itself, gathering data on the gas giant planet’s atmosphere, from its cloudy layers to the ionosphere and auroras. The spacecraft’s instruments will look at different wavelengths of light to provide new insights into how temperatures, wind patterns, and chemistry are changing in this never-before-seen part of Jupiter’s atmosphere.

The JUICE team

Bringing together 80 partners across 23 countries and harnessing the brainpower of 2,000+ people, Airbus has designed and built JUICE under contract with the European Space Agency. There are close to 500 team members in Airbus alone.

One of the key spacecraft features is its solar arrays, made by Airbus’ site in Leiden, the Netherlands. Covering a total surface area of 85 square meters, these are one of the largest solar arrays of its type ever built. This phenomenal size - a bit larger than a badminton court - is essential because Jupiter is so far from the sun that large arrays are needed to deliver the power necessary for the spacecraft and its instruments.

Ready for launch

JUICE was shipped from the Airbus production site in Toulouse, France, to South America, where it is now undergoing final preparations by our engineers before launch on April 13 by an Ariane 5 rocket from French Guiana.

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