Europe’s most important mission to Jupiter finally lifted off from Europe’s Spaceport, at Kourou, French Guiana on April 14, 2023. The Ariane 5 rocket, carrying the JUICE spacecraft, left the ELA-3 launch pad at 12.14 UTC.
The launch was firstly scheduled for April 13, but then postponed to the next day because of a risk of lightning.
2.15 minutes after liftoff the two side boosters separated from the main stage that separated 6.30 minutes later. About 28 minutes after liftoff, JUICE was successfully deployed from the Ariane 5 upper stage.
After a few minutes of anxiety, ESA confirmed the Acquisition Of Signal (AOS) with the spacecraft from the ground station located in Australia. One hour and a quarter after liftoff the huge solar arrays began deployment. JUICE is now safely traveling towards Jupiter.
We are on the way to #Jupiter and its ocean worlds! 🤩— ESA's Juice mission (@ESA_JUICE) April 14, 2023
With the critical milestone of solar array deployment completed, we have a mission!
FULL STORY 👉https://t.co/l7cJKFOkvJ#ExploreFarther #DestinationJupiter pic.twitter.com/X7zfa6Lp7R
The mission will deeply study Jupiter’s system, and in particular three of its moons in a long journey that will determine if life is possible on these “dwarf planets”.
The JUICE mission
The Jupiter ICy moons Explorer (JUICE) is an interplanetary mission led by the European Space Agency (ESA) in collaboration with NASA, JAXA and ISA. The design, development, production and testing of the spacecraft was mainly assigned to Airbus.
The spacecraft will reach the Jovian system after an 8 year journey, during which it will perform several gravity assist maneuvers using Earth and Venus gravitational fields. JUICE will then start studying Jupiter and its three largest icy moons, Ganymede, Europa, and Callisto.
The three icy moons
The spacecraft will perform two flybys of Europa, looking for liquid water and organic molecules between the thick layers of ice that probably covers a saltwater ocean, and studying the moon’s geology. This will be possible thanks to the RIME (Radar for Icy Moons Exploration) instrument that can penetrate the surface of the icy moon, uncovering their internal structure for the first time. RIME was built in Italy and provided by the Italian Space Agency.
The main objective of the mission is Ganymede, the largest moon of Jupiter. The spacecraft will make 12 flybys, approaching only 200 km from the surface. Ganymede is important because it is the only moon in the Solar System to have its own magnetic field, JUICE will study it and how this interacts with Jupiter’s magnetosphere. It will also study the 130 km thick ice shell and the ocean hidden under it, as well as the potential habitability of the moon. At the end of the 3 year mission the spacecraft will crash on the surface of Ganymede.
JUICE will also make 21 flybys of Callisto, the second largest moon and the one with the oldest and most densely cratered surface. The mission will study it to better understand the past activity of the moon and the history of the Jovian environment.
Ariane 5 rocket
This will be the sixth science mission and the penultimate flight of the Ariane 5 rocket, the last commercial flight is scheduled for June 2023. Later this year, the new Ariane 6 launch vehicle will make its debut.
Ariane 5 retires after an important career characterized by a well known reliability. Since its debut in 1996 the European rocket completed 109 missions with a 95% success rate, carrying out some famous missions such as Rosetta comet mission, BepiColombo mission to Mercury and the James Webb Space Telescope.
Ariane 5 is a heavy-lift launch vehicle developed by Arianespace for the ESA. The rocket is composed of a core stage, two side boosters and an upper stage. The core stage is powered by a Vulcan 2 engine that provides 140 t of thrust, while the two solid propellant boosters, produced by Avio, together provide 1200 t of thrust (90% of the total thrust at liftoff).
Thanks to its proximity to the equator, the European Spaceport in French Guiana allows the rocket to take advantage of the maximum Earth’s rotation speed, increasing the launch performance.