The European Space Agency (ESA) and Arianespace both took part in the International Paris Air Show this week. It was there that they announced the Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer (affectionately known as Juice), will hitch a ride to space on an Ariane launch vehicle.
Juice is part of ESA’s Cosmic Vision 2015 – 2025 programme which aims to answer a few of the most important questions concerning our Solar System, which have plagued the scientists for years: “What are the conditions for planet formation and the emergence of life? How does the Solar System work? What are the fundamental physical laws of the Universe? How did the Universe originate and what is it made of?”
The spacecraft will be developed by Airbus Defense and Space and, as the prime contractor responsible not only for its design and development but also for production and testing, the company will lead an organization made out of no less than 80 companies that will cover over 110 contracts.
Juice will weigh around six tonnes at liftoff and will be placed in an orbit that will carry it on a lengthy journey of 600 million kilometers towards Jupiter.
It will continue to travel on that orbit for around 7.5 years and will be helped along the way with gravitational assists from Earth, Venus and Mars. The spacecraft is expected to reach Jupiter’s orbit sometime in October, 2029.
Juice will also be carrying a very high-tech backpack that will include no less than 10 state-of-the-art instruments that will help the scientists back on Earth compare Jupiter’s satellites and investigate if there is any possibility they could host any type of habitable environments such as subsurface oceans.
Of course, the instruments’ main focus will be Jupiter: they will investigate its atmosphere, magnetosphere as well as its rings and other minor satellites.
“Juice is the first ‘large-class’ mission in our Cosmic Vision programme and of prime importance for investigating the habitability potential of ocean-worlds beyond our own,” Günther Hasinger, ESA’s Director of Science, has said about the spacecraft. “We’re delighted to confirm it will have a flying start with an Ariane launch vehicle, setting it on course to fulfill its scientific goals in the Jupiter system.”
Juice will launch from the French Guiana in South America sometime in mid-2022 aboard either an Ariane 5 or an Ariane 64 launch vehicle. After launch, it will spend a minimum of three years making observations of Jupiter and will also study the giant’s largest moons, Ganymede, Europa and Callisto.