The first European mission to Jupiter, the Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer (JUICE), is in the final stages of preparation for its launch scheduled for April 13 from the European spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana.
Functional tests and countdown rehearsals have been successfully completed. In anticipation of the launch, teams are preparing to fuel the spacecraft and its launch vehicle. The European Space Agency (ESA), which is managing the mission, reported this news on Friday (ref.) and Saturday (ref.) in a series of tweets.
Countdown is approaching
“Just five weeks to go, and launch preparations are accelerating here at the Europe Spaceport. Soon Juice will be sealed inside its protective fairing and mounted atop this powerful Ariane5” tweeted the ESA with a series of images. “As the rocket takes shape, it’s starting to feel real”.
The Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer will be launched into space for its eight-year journey through the solar system by the European Ariane 5 rocket. The mission is the first European solo attempt to explore planets in the outer Solar System. It will represent the penultimate launch for the Ariane 5 carrier, which has served the European space industry since 1996.
“We’re really on track now. It’s now undergoing final preparations by our engineers ahead of the launch on April 13 with the Ariane 5 rocket from French Guiana” wrote the European aerospace giant Airbus, which led the consortium in building the spacecraft, in an emailed statement released on March 7.
Direct missions to Jupiter
If all goes well, the 6.6-ton spacecraft will arrive at Jupiter in 2031 and then undertake a complex tour around the planet and three of its main moons: Ganymede, Europa, and Callisto. JUICE will become the first spacecraft ever to orbit a moon other than Earth’s in 2035 when it moves from Jupiter’s orbit to that of its largest moon, Ganymede.
Equipped with a set of 10 cutting-edge scientific instruments, JUICE will allow scientists to study the moons and their interiors like never before. The mission is expected to make a significant contribution to the search for life on those icy bodies.
JUICE will arrive at Jupiter a few years after the end of NASA‘s Juno mission, which is expected to conclude in 2025. However, another NASA mission, the Europa Clipper, which will be launched next year, will arrive in the Jupiter system before JUICE to study the icy, oceanic moon Europa. Many astrobiologists consider Europa one of the best chances in the solar system to host alien life.