The Juice mission, from the European Space Agency (ESA), is already heading towards Jupiter. After Thursday’s launch was postponed due to the risk of lightning, this Friday, at 2:14 p.m. on the peninsula, the Ariane 5 rocket took off from the Kourou spaceport, in French Guiana, in what was its last takeoff. Seven minutes earlier, the European team deployed there confirmed that, this time, the weather conditions were perfect for the operation. As a curiosity, the Zaragoza group Amaral has entered the playlist that the ESA has created to liven up the launch process, with their song ‘The universe about me’.
The rocket has taken flight with a single passenger: the Juice spacecraft, which weighs six tons and contains ten instruments with which scientists intend to discover if the three largest moons of Jupiter, Ganymede, Callisto and Europa, contain in their immense underground oceans capacity to host life.
«The Juice mission is now a reality thanks to the leadership of ESA and the effort and commitment of hundreds of European industries and scientific institutions. “Together with our partners at NASA, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency and the Israel Space Agency, who have also contributed hardware or scientific instrumentation, we have achieved this long-awaited launch goal,” celebrated Giuseppe Sarri, director of the Juice project. of ESA, in a press conference called after the event.
The journey to the gaseous planet, which began on April 14, will last eight years. Along the way, Juice will perform several gravity assist maneuvers on Earth, the moon and Venus. The first two will take place in 2024 and the following in 2026 and 2029. This technique is used to take advantage of the gravity of a planet or satellite to change the speed and trajectory of a ship and save fuel. Upon arrival at Jupiter, scheduled for July 2031, it will begin its investigation of the Jovian system, with a special focus on the three moons.
In total, the ship will fly over Callisto 21 times, Ganymede 12 and Europa 2. The main objective of the mission is to study the habitability of these worlds, as well as their geology, composition and evolution. Of course, the ship is not equipped to find life, but to detect if the environment is conducive for it to develop. That is, analyze whether water exists in these underground oceans, but also essential biological elements, such as carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen, phosphorus and sulfur; as well as energy and stability.
Of the three satellites, Ganymede will be the only one that Juice orbits (it will approach Callisto and Europa, but without entering their orbit) and the one that it will study in greater depth. Ganymede is the only moon in the Solar System that has its own magnetic field. This will be the first time that a spacecraft orbits a moon other than Earth’s.
In addition, Juice will also analyze Jupiter’s atmosphere, its magnetosphere and its interaction with the moons. If everything goes as expected, in the year 2035, the ship will crash into Ganymede in a controlled crash and end the mission. ‘The treasure trove of data that ESA’s Juice mission will provide will enable the global scientific community to address and unravel the mysteries of the Jovian system, explore the nature and habitability of other worlds’ oceans, and enable future generations of scientists to answer. to questions not yet asked,” said Carole Mundell, ESA’s scientific director.
Two simultaneous missions
To achieve these goals, the space probe is equipped with advanced scientific instruments, such as a surface-penetrating radar, which will help study the internal structure of the moons; spectrometers, to analyze the composition of the surface and subsurface; and cameras that will take high-resolution images, among others.
Likewise, numerous protection measures have been included to protect it from the violent conditions it will face in the Jovian system, such as intense radiation, extreme temperatures (between 250ºC and -250ºC), strong magnetic field or minimal availability of light, intense radiation. Many of these devices have been possible thanks to the Spanish collaboration of companies and scientific institutions, such as the CSIC, INTA or Sener.
In 2024, NASA plans to send the Europa Clipper mission to Jupiter, which will explore the moon Europa. This is the Jovian satellite most likely to be habitable, astronomers believe. Both the Juice and Europa Clipper teams will collaborate together and have annual meetings to make the most of the scientific potential of both ships.
“The scientific treasure we will receive will undoubtedly have far-reaching implications for how we understand our Solar System and whether there are potentially habitable places beyond Earth, not only in our own cosmic neighborhood, but also far beyond, in the vast number of exoplanet systems that populate our Universe,” said Olivier Witasse, ESA Juice project scientist. “In turn, this knowledge will enrich us, allowing us to learn more about ourselves, our origins and our place in the Universe.”