The European Space Agency’s (ESA) Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer (Juice; formerly known as JUICE) spacecraft, launched on April 14, 2023, has finally completed the deployment of its solar panel arrays and a variety of booms, probes and antennas en route to the largest planet of the solar system.
However, Juice’s first six weeks in space didn’t go as smoothly as the RIME (Radar for Ice Moons Exploration) antenna got stuck and couldn’t be deployed. However, the engineers successfully deployed RIME after solving the problem for over a month. The RIME unit is considered “mission-critical” because its purpose is to map beneath the icy crusts of Jupiter’s three icy worlds: Europa, Ganymede, and Callisto.
“It’s been an exhausting but very exciting six weeks,” said Angela Dietz, the Juice mission’s deputy spacecraft operations manager. “We have faced and overcome various challenges to get Juice in the right shape to get the most out of his journey to Jupiter.”
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Deploying the booms and antennas is critical, as they will house either some or all of Juice’s ten instruments, which are made up of different science packages: the remote sensing package, the in situ package, and the geophysical package. Alongside these incredible instruments, Juice will also conduct an experiment known as the Planetary Radio Interferometer & Doppler Experiment (PRIDE), which will aim to use a very long baseline and ground-based interferometry to accurately measure Juice’s velocity and position in space .
This incredible instrument cache will be responsible for exploring Jupiter while conducting 35 flybys of Europa, Ganymede and Callisto, each thought to contain liquid water beneath their icy crusts. Aside from the moons, Juice will also conduct further surveys of the entire Jovian system, as scientists believe it could help paint a clearer picture of gas-giant exoplanets – and possible exomonds that have yet to be discovered – that continue to exist throughout galaxy to be discovered .
Of the 10 Juice instruments, three stand out as being most critical to the mission. These include the previously discussed RIME antenna, which will be responsible for mapping the interior environments of these icy worlds; the JANUS optical camera instrument, capable of capturing images in 13 different colors ranging from violet to near-infrared, and will also image Jupiter’s innermost Galilean moon Io; and the Radio & Plasma Wave Investigation (RPWI) instrument, which will be responsible for creating the first-ever 3D map of Jupiter’s electric fields and the interactions between Jupiter’s massive magnetosphere and the icy worlds of Europa, Ganymede and Callisto.
Sectional view of the interior of Europe. Mapping this interior will be one of the goals of the Juice mission using its RIME antenna. (Source: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Michael Carroll) Artist’s rendering of Jupiter’s enormous magnetic field. One of the goals of the Juice mission with its RPWI instrument will be to produce the first-ever 3D map of Jupiter’s electric fields and the interactions between Jupiter’s massive magnetosphere and its icy worlds. (Source: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center)
“Our 3D design strategy makes it possible to measure real physical observables such as energy and momentum without having to resort to theory or simulation to interpret the data,” said Jan Bergman, principal scientist at the Swedish Institute for Space Physics and engineering manager for RPWI.
As part of ongoing testing of all instruments during Juice’s cruise to Jupiter, the team last week activated JANUS about 8 million kilometers (5 million miles) from Earth and captured numerous images of Eta Cyg – located in the constellation Cygnus – between 2nd and 4th August 2 years and 200 milliseconds (0.002 and 0.2 seconds).
On his journey to Jupiter, Juice needs some help to get there by 2031. This begins with the first Moon-Earth gravity-assist maneuver in August 2024, meaning that Juice will fling around the Moon and then Earth just 1.5 days later. By performing this maneuver, Juice will save a significant amount of fuel during its mission. This will be followed by a Venus gravity assist in August 2025, then two more Earth-only gravity assists in September 2026 and January 2029, respectively, before Juice catapults towards Jupiter, arriving there in July 2031. Juice’s main mission is only supposed to last four years, but with 35 flybys of Europa, Ganymede and Callisto, Juice should be able to do a lot of scientific work in that time and teach us more about Jupiter and its many moons.
What new discoveries will Juice teach us about Jupiter and its icy moons during its mission, and how will these discoveries affect our understanding of icy worlds and their potential habitability? Only time will tell, and that’s why we do science!
As always, keep up the science and keep looking up!