Europe will soon carry out its very first mission in the Jupiter system. If all goes well, the spacecraft will arrive at the gas giant in 2031.
Explorer Jupiter Icy Moons, or JUICEshould be launched on Thursday (April 13) from the European spaceport of Kourou, in French Guiana. Take-off is planned from pad ELA-3 at 9:15 a.m. local time (8:15 a.m. EDT; 12:15 p.m. GMT), time permitting. The spacecraft is currently cocooned inside the fairing of its Ariane 5 rocket, which also launched NASA’s mighty rocket James Webb Space Telescope.
The European Space Agency (ESA), which is leading the mission, will start the live broadcast at 8:45 a.m. local time (7:45 a.m. EDT; 11:45 a.m. GMT). You can watch the launch online at Space.com, courtesy of ESA, and at ESA Web page (opens in a new tab). A French version of the show will also be available on another channel (opens in a new tab)the agency said.
Related: Facts about the European JUICE Jupiter Mission
JUICE has a one-second launch window
JUICE will have a tighter launch schedule than most other spacecraft, as it will only have one second to lift off each day.
JUICE will fly by Venus, Earth and the Moon to increase its speed and adjust its trajectory. But to do that, those celestial bodies need to be properly aligned, which only happens twice a year, in April and again in late summer, Sarah Knapton of the Telegraph reported last month (opens in a new tab).
So within that one-second window, scientists must “inject” the spacecraft to a point in space as it is on the preferred path to continue and perform its flybys.
Will the weather be a concern for JUICE?
The weather forecast for the April 13 launch calls for overcast skies with a few thunderstorms. 76% chance of rain predicted (opens in a new tab). The JUICE team shared during a Thursday April 6 briefing that they will continue to monitor the weather forecast, especially in the days leading up to launch.
What if JUICE doesn’t launch in time?
If the mission is delayed for weather or technical reasons, the team can retry launching JUICE once per day for the rest of the month. Although the ESA has yet to announce specific times, the launch windows are at different times each day, the JUICE team shared during Thursday’s briefing.
If the spacecraft does not launch in April, the next available slot will open four months later, in August 2023.
On April 12, a day before the scheduled launch, the JUICE team will begin preparing for liftoff at 7:00 p.m. local time (6:00 p.m. EST; 2200 GMT), following procedures to identify and resolve any issues that may arise, said team members. THURSDAY.
From what we know so far, if JUICE’s launch is pushed past April 18, the spacecraft will shorten (opens in a new tab) his first flyby of lunar Earth and his only flyby of Earth.
What can we expect after JUICE takes off?
According to ESA, the launch webcast will last 3 hours and 20 minutes, as the live stream will begin at 8:45 a.m. local time (7:45 a.m. EDT; 11:45 a.m. GMT) on April 13 and end at 11:05 a.m. local time (10:05 a.m. EST; 1405 GMT). ESA is also expected to broadcast a 45-minute post-launch press briefing on Thursday. The information session, which should begin in 11:30 a.m. local time (10:30 a.m. EDT; 2:30 p.m. GMT)will also be available on Space.com, courtesy of ESA.
Shortly after launch, the JUICE team will take care of making sure everything goes according to plan. Based on the current launch schedule, here are some key milestones to look forward to after liftoff.
- 8:42 a.m. EST (12:42 p.m. GMT): JUICE separates from Ariadne 5 launcher. Less than half an hour after liftoff, JUICE is expected to separate from its ride, the Ariane 5 rocket, according to the mission’s launch kit (opens in a new tab). The 13,668-pound (6,200-kilogram) spacecraft will separate from the rocket’s upper stage, where it is currently folded.
- 8:51 a.m. EST (12:51 p.m. GMT): JUICE should send the first signal home. About nine minutes after the spacecraft separated, JUICE should call home for the first time. “The control center will make sure we have good communication with JUICE,” Olivier Witasse, project scientist for the JUICE mission, told Space.com earlier this week.
- 9:55 a.m. EST (1:55 p.m. GMT): JUICE completes the deployment of the solar panels. This will be another critical step after launch. JUICE’s solar wings are made up of 10 solar panels, which are essential to operate the solar-powered spacecraft in the harsh environment away from the sun. There are five panels on each side of the spacecraft that will be folded inside Ariane 5 upon launch. Once in space, they will be deployed like a cross (opens in a new tab). Two cameras are supposed to click certain images of the panels to send home.
Then, over the next 17 days, JUICE will use several poles to deploy its instruments, such as its dish-shaped antenna as well as the magnetometer which will collect data on Jupiter’s magnetic field and the three Galilean moons that JUICE will study in depth. — Callisto, Europe and Ganymede. Some of these updates will likely be shared on ESA’s Twitter feed (opens in a new tab).
For about the next two months, scientists “will be checking whether JUICE and its 10 instruments are working well,” Witasse said, adding that he expects those checks to be completed by the end of June. “If all goes well, we declare the phase successful and begin the actual cruise phase to Jupiter.”
After a seven-and-a-half-year journey, the spacecraft is expected to reach the gas giant in December 2031.
Related: Europe’s flagship JUICE mission will study Jupiter’s moons Europa, Callisto and Ganymede.
How will JUICE reach Jupiter?
JUICE will perform a total of four flybys to adapt its trajectory and increase its speed without using much of the 4 tons of propellant it carries, according to the mission launch kit (opens in a new tab).
- August 2024: JUICE will perform what is called a lunar-Earth flyby, where the spacecraft will first pass by the Moon and then Earth 1.5 days later.
- August 2025: JUICE will pass Venus, marking its second flyby.
- September 2026: JUICE will pass in front of Earth for its third flyby.
- January 2026: JUICE will fly over Earth for the second and final time.
You can find the complete timeline until the end of the mission on the ESA website (opens in a new tab).
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