ESA‘s JUICE probe has finally fixed the antenna problem. Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer has deployed its Radar for Icy Moons Exploration (RIME) antenna after three weeks of intense efforts to solve the problem. The announcement by officials from the European Space Agency on May 12 confirms the success of the operation (ref.).
How the antenna problem was fixed
Fixed the antenna problem on JUICE is a significant step forward for the entire mission. The RIME antenna is a key element of the probe’s scientific package. Once JUICE arrives in the Jupiter system in July 2031, it will “use RIME to study the structure of the surface and subsurface of Jupiter‘s icy moons to a depth of 9 km” wrote ESA officials today. “RIME is one of the 10 instruments on board JUICE intended to study the emergence of habitable worlds around gas giants and the formation of our Solar System“.
The 870-million-euro mission was launched on April 14th. The initial phases went smoothly, except for the planned deployment of the RIME antenna. Unfortunately, the 16-meter arm of the instrument got stuck on the first attempt. The mission team immediately suspected that a pin was blocking the folded antenna segments. They then decided to try a series of “tricks” to release the pin, shaking JUICE using its thrusters and orienting the probe to heat it in sunlight.
These procedures were not sufficient, only slightly moving the pin. Success came when “the flight control team activated a mechanical device called a non-explosive actuator (NEA), located in the jammed bracket” ESA officials wrote. “This produced a shock that moved the pin a few millimeters and allowed the antenna to deploy” they added.
The objectives of the JUICE mission
After arriving in orbit around Jupiter, JUICE will closely study the moons Ganymede, Callisto, and Europa during a series of flybys. It is believed that all three of these moons harbor liquid water oceans beneath their icy shells. If all goes according to plan, JUICE will enter orbit around Ganymede, the largest moon in the solar system, in December 2034. This will mark a historic moment as no spacecraft has ever orbited a moon of a planet other than Earth.