JUICE probe is experiencing a faulty and is struggling to deploy an antenna in deep space. According to officials from the European Space Agency (ESA) on April 28th, the Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer spacecraft has a stuck antenna. The probe is designed to study in detail the icy surface of Jupiter‘s moons, searching for evidence of habitable conditions for life in the subsurface waters.
“A matter of millimeters could make the difference in freeing the rest of the radar” ESA officials wrote in an update (ref.). Fortunately, the team of engineers working on the partially deployed antenna has many ideas to release it from the blockage.
The 870-million-euro JUICE probe was launched on April 14th, and its arrival on Jupiter is expected in July 2031, where it will spend years flying around its icy moons and learning more about their potentially life-friendly environments. Ten of the eleven instruments on board the spacecraft are working perfectly, while the Radar for Icy Moons Exploration (RIME) antenna of the spacecraft is stuck in its mounting bracket. Engineers suspect a tiny pin is causing the problem, according to their calculations.
“There are still several options available to push the tool out of its current position” ESA officials wrote. “The next steps to fully deploy the antenna include an engine start-up to shake the spacecraft a bit. We will then try a series of rotations that will heat up the mounting.”
The first steps to prepare a spacecraft for its mission are underway and will last for the next two months. ESA officials have therefore stressed that there is plenty of time to solve the faulty that is affecting the JUICE probe’s antenna.
Assuming the 16-meter antenna is unlocked, it will allow JUICE to detect data up to 9 meters below the surface of Jupiter’s moons such as Ganymede or Europa. The latter moon in particular has shown clear signs of water expulsion into space over the years.
This is not the first time a Jovian mission has had antenna problems. NASA‘s Galileo mission was never able to properly deploy its high-gain antenna before visiting Jupiter and its icy moons between 1995 and 2003. The mission still sent data home, but at a slower speed than expected.