Europe’s Mission To Jupiter’s Icy Moons Ready For Launch

Exploring the ice moons of Jupiter will be one of Europe’s most ambitious space missions ever. Europe’s mission to Jupiter’s icy moons is now ready for launch.

Europe's Mission To Jupiter's Icy Moons Ready For Launch

In Toulouse, France, the Juice satellite is undergoing final testing before being transported to the South American launch site.

It is expected to depart Earth in April, reports BBC News.

A sophisticated set of equipment will be used by the six-ton spacecraft during a series of flybys of Callisto, Ganymede, and Europa to determine whether any of these planets are habitable.

This may come off as whimsical. The Jovian system is far from the Sun and only receives one-quarter of the light that falls on Earth since it is located in the chilly, outer limits of the Solar System.

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However, because of the gravitational pushing and pulling the giant planet does to its moons, they have the heat and energy to hold vast amounts of liquid water at depth. And on Earth, we are aware that life may flourish anywhere there is water.

Watch the video below

Prof Emma Bunce: The moons could be a new “Goldilocks” zone for life

“In the case of Europa, it’s thought there’s a deep ocean, maybe 100km deep, underneath its ice crust,” said Prof Emma Bunce of Leicester University in the United Kingdom.

“That depth of ocean is 10 times that of the deepest ocean on Earth, and the ocean is in contact, we think, with a rocky floor. So that provides a scenario where there is mixing and some interesting chemistry,” the researcher told BBC News.

It is a 6.6 billion kilometer voyage that will take 8.5 years.

Set your calendar for July 2031. Juice will arrive at Jupiter at that time. It will thereafter fly around the three moons 35 times before settling permanently around Ganymede in late 2034.

Watch the video below:

WATCH: Jupiter’s biggest moons moons – Callisto, Ganymede, Europa and Io – orbit the planet (Credit: Nasa/SwRI)

The European Space Agency (Esa) development team overseeing Juice conducted a major assessment this week and confirmed the project was “go for launch”.

Airbus is leading the development of the €1.6 billion (£1.4 billion; $1.7 billion) JUpiter ICy moons Explorer.

The manufacturer sourced components and expertise from all around the continent.

Europe's Mission To Jupiter's Icy Moons Ready For Launch 2
Cyril Cavel, Séverine Deschamps and the Airbus team will soon send the probe to the launch site

Now everything is put together, even Juice’s collection of ten scientific tools.

“We have a number of high-resolution cameras on this probe in all possible wavelengths – in infrared, the visible and ultraviolet,” engineer Cyril Cavel stated, pointing to a collection of boxes dangling off one side of the silver and black satellite.

“You can see all these instruments underneath protective, transparent covers. The high-resolution visible telescope, which is called Janus, will take fantastic pictures very close to the moons because we will do flybys at just 400km altitude. They will be stunning shots,” the Airbus Juice project manager said.

Europe's Mission To Jupiter's Icy Moons Ready For Launch 3
A map of Ganymede’s icy surface. The crust caps a hidden ocean

Radar will also see into the moons; lidar, a laser measuring device, will create 3D maps of their surfaces; magnetometers will map their complicated electrical and magnetic environments; and sensors will collect data from the particles that whiz around them.

Juice will not be looking for specific “biomarkers” or attempting to find extraterrestrial fish in the deep oceans. Its aim is to discover more about the potential for habitability, which future missions might subsequently examine further. Landers on one of Jupiter’s frozen moons to dig through its crust to the water underneath have long been considered by scientists.

Europe's Mission To Jupiter's Icy Moons Ready For Launch 4

That could happen one day, perhaps in the second half of the twentieth century.

Working in the outer Solar System requires patience. The orbits of Earth and Jupiter are “only” 600 million kilometers apart, but going direct is impossible without a massive rocket. And, while Europe’s Ariane 5 is powerful, it lacks that kind of mass.

Instead, it will send Juice on a roundabout path, using the gravity of Venus and Earth to catapult the probe out to the gas giant.

Europe's Mission To Jupiter's Icy Moons Ready For Launch 5
The American Clipper mission should launch in 2024 and focus on Europa

Juice is designed in the style of an air-conditioned tank.

Without protection, its electronics would deteriorate quickly in the strong radiation that flows around Jupiter. During the long voyage inwards towards Venus and then out to the gas giant, temperatures on the satellite’s exterior will range from 250C to minus-230C.

“We have two big vaults inside the spacecraft to protect the computers from radiation and to maintain them through a network of pipes at the same level of temperature,” said thermal architect Séverine Deschamps.

“The same is true for the propulsion system. Its operation has to be maintained around the 20C, quite warm, to get a good level of performance when firing.”

Europe's Mission To Jupiter's Icy Moons Ready For Launch 6
The business side of Juice. Most of its instruments are on one panel

Juice will not be working alone.

Nasa, the US space agency, is deploying its own Clipper satellite.

Egypt is shown in all its splendor in space imagery from NASA and the European Space Agency. Here’s the satellite view of the Pyramids and Nile River from space.

Even though it will leave Earth after Juice, it should arrive before its European counterpart. It will concentrate on Europa.

The two satellites will form a formidable partnership.

“You get a much deeper understanding having the two there together, and it removes some of the guesswork as to what’s going on,” said Prof Michelle Dougherty, the principal investigator on Juice’s magnetometer instrument.

“It will be interesting, for example, when Clipper is going past Europa if there is a plume coming from the moon. Clipper will be making the close-in measurements, but Juice will be watching at a distance to see what impact that has on the environment around Europa and whether we get bigger spots in the auroral lights on Jupiter.”

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  1. Awesome!
    Wouldn’t it be wonderful if they sent EVERYONE who attended the DAVOS meeting, along with the Bilderbers and Rothschilds on it, to “personally explore” the terrain…?

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