WASHINGTON — An Ariane 5 successfully launched a European spacecraft on an eight-year journey to Jupiter on April 14 on the venerable rocket’s penultimate flight.
The Ariane 5 lifted off from Europe’s spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana, at 8:14 a.m. Eastern Time after weather conditions canceled a launch attempt the day before. The Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer, or JUICE, spacecraft separated from Ariane’s upper stage 26 minutes after liftoff.
Controllers contracted JUICE about 40 minutes after liftoff and half an hour later deployed its two large solar panels with a total area of 85 square meters that will generate power for the spacecraft. six tons.
The acquisition of signals from JUICE took place a little later than expected, although still within the nominal window to do so. The deployment of the solar panels took place a little earlier than planned. Jean-Marc Nasr, head of space systems at Airbus Defense and Space, explained during a post-launch briefing that the deployment of the network took place earlier because the space systems’ acquisition of the sun was precise. “It’s the sign of a perfect mission,” he said.
The launch begins an eight-year journey for JUICE to reach Jupiter and three of its largest moons. The Airbus-built spacecraft will perform several gravity-assisted flybys to reach Jupiter, beginning with a joint flyby of Earth and the Moon in August 2024. Further Earth flybys are planned for September 2026 and January 2029, as well than a flyby of Venus in August. 2025.
JUICE will orbit Jupiter in July 2031, making 35 flybys of Europa, Ganymede and Callisto to characterize their surfaces and subterranean oceans, including determining if they are habitable. JUICE will orbit Ganymede in December 2034 until the end of its mission, currently scheduled for September 2035.
“I think this is something Europe can be extremely proud of,” ESA Director General Josef Aschbacher said during the post-launch briefing. “It’s a mission that answers scientific questions that burn us all.”
JUICE, whose total cost is estimated at 1.5 billion euros ($1.65 billion), will try to answer these questions with a suite of 10 instruments, one of which was provided by NASA. The Japanese space agency JAXA and the Israel Space Agency are also mission partners, providing parts of other instruments.
The launch was the sixth Ariane 5 flight to perform ESA missions, a total that includes the December 2021 launch of NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope which features significant ESA contributions. It was 116e Launch of Ariane 5 as a whole, dating from 1996.
There is only one Ariane 5 flight left, a launch tentatively scheduled for the end of June of two European government communication satellites, the French Syracuse 4B and the German Heinrich Hertz.
“I think it’s a wonderful symbol to have done this one with ESA and the very last one for Germany and France,” said Stéphane Israël, CEO of Arianespace, during the Arianespace briefing. post-launch.
The Ariane 5 is replaced by the Ariane 6, whose first flight has been delayed for several years. The most recent date announced by ESA for Ariane 6’s maiden flight is late 2023, amid speculation it could slip again in 2024.
Aschbacher did not give a new estimate for Ariane 6’s debut. “We are working very hard and doing everything to get it to the launch pad as quickly as possible,” he said. “We have to take decisive steps over the next two weeks, but we are certainly on the right track.”
“I’m a bit sad that this wonderful rocket is being taken out of service,” he said of Ariane 5, but added that Ariane 6 “will be an equally good launcher.”
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