Science & Technology

ESA spacecraft sets off on 8-year journey to Jupiter’s moons

Science Desk, Apr 14 (EFE).- The European Space Agency successfully launched its mission to three of Jupiter’s moons on Friday, when a robotic spacecraft lifted off aboard an Ariane 5 rocket from Europe’s Spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana.

A day after Thursday’s scheduled launch from the northern coast of South America was aborted due to lightning risk, the Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer (Juice) began its eight-year journey to the Jovian system at 12.14 GMT before separating from its rocket less than 28 minutes later.

Applause erupted when “separation confirmed” was heard from one of the control rooms, where the Juice team celebrated the successful start of a mission aimed at determining whether habitable environments exist on three of Jupiter’s large moons – Callisto, Europa and Ganymede (the largest moon in the Solar System).

The ESA says previous Jupiter missions have shown that those three moons are known to “hold quantities of water buried under their surfaces in volumes far greater than in Earth’s oceans.”

The next significant moment came when the first signal was received from Juice 50 minutes after lift-off.

“We have #AcquisitionOfSignal from #ESAJuice! The spacecraft has said its first words from its new home in space, captured by our New Norcia ground station in Western Australia. @ESA_Juice, we hear you loud and clear,” the space agency said on one of its Twitter accounts.

Yet another critical phase was successfully completed when the spacecraft’s 27-meter-long (88-foot-long) solar arrays, which will allow it to capture sunlight from the dark edges of the Solar System, were unfurled about an hour and 15 minutes after lift-off.

The mission is highly challenging technically, with the spacecraft needing to be slingshot toward the outer Solar System via four gravity-assist flybys at Earth and Venus.

The first will come in August of next year and will involve a flyby of the Moon, followed a day and a half later by one of Earth.

A flyby of Venus will occur 12 months later, and then two additional flybys of Earth will be needed in September 2026 and January 2029 before the spaceship arrives at Jupiter in July 2031.

The six-ton spacecraft will carry out its mission in a particularly hostile environment characterized by enormously high levels of radiation, extremely low temperatures, strong magnetic fields and little sunlight.

Juice will conduct in-depth research on the complex environment of Jupiter and remotely study that gas giant’s large oceanic moons, with a special focus on Ganymede.

After arrival in the Jovian system (as the satellite system formed by Jupiter’s moons are known), the mission is expected to last an additional four years, during which time Juice will carry out 35 flybys of Europa, Ganymede and Callisto while orbiting the Solar System’s largest planet.

In its two flybys of Europa, Juice will seek out biomarkers and pockets of liquid water under its icy surface, as well as explore its geology. Twenty-one flybys will then be made of Callisto to shed light on an ancient moon that could hold clues to primitive conditions in the Jovian system.

Ganymede, notable for generating its own magnetic field, then will become the only moon other than Earth’s to be orbited by a spacecraft when Juice does so between December 2034 and September 2035.

“Juice will reveal more about the interior structure of Ganymede and in doing so will be able to determine how its core is able to generate and maintain a magnetic field. This will be key to understanding how the moon evolved, and the consequences for habitability,” the ESA said.

The mission, which has a cost of 1.6 billion euros ($1.76 billion) and includes the collaboration of scientists from 23 countries, will conclude in late 2035 when Juice is scheduled to crash-land onto Ganymede’s surface. EFE


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