Space, ESA’s Juice mission flying to Jupiter, 8-year journey begins

Taking off from the European spaceport of Kourou, the probe will arrive in the Jupiter system in 2031

Successfully launched ESA’s Juice mission who will go to explore the giant of planets Jupiter and hers icy moons Ganymede, Callisto and Europa. Juice was launched from the European spaceport of Kourou, in French Guiana, with an Ariane 5 of Arianespace at 14.14 Italian time. To mark the successful launch – and the start of Juice’s mission and long journey to Jupiter – the European Space Agency (Hex) waited for the proper deployment of the large solar panels. Juice is a mission led by the European Space Agency and – once the made in Italy solar panels are opened – the large satellite will begin to face an approximately 8-year journey to cover the 750 million kilometers that separate the Earth from Jupiter.

With the Juice mission, scientists hope to have information on possible life forms given that the moons of Jupiter that will be explored have expanses of frozen oceans and that water is the main element for life. All three of these moons in fact have discrete quantities of liquid water under the surface and are ideal candidates for the search for extraterrestrial life. The spacecraft will arrive in the Jupiter system in 2031 after four times using the gravitational assistance of the Earth and Venus. After a series of fly-bys of Europa and Callisto it will enter orbit around Ganymede in 2034 for a further study that will be completed in 2035.

After launch, Juice now embarks on its long journey to Jupiter where it is expected to arrive in July 2031 with the help of momentum and direction gained from four gravity-assisted flybys of the Earth-Moon system, Venus and, twice, the Earth. Flight VA 260 is the last Ariane 5 flight to carry an ESA mission into space. The probe has a mass of about 5 tons and uses solar panels to produce energy. Scientific instruments, including radars, magnetometers, spectrometers and cameras, weigh around 100 kilograms.

Juice is the most ambitious science mission of the ESA Cosmic Vision science space program for the decade 2015-2025. The project was proposed under the name of Jupiter Ganymede Orbiter (JGO), but was modified and renamed after the abandonment in 2010 of a joint mission between ESA and NASA, the Europa Jupiter System Mission. Selected by ESA’s science program committee in May 2012, it is the first exclusively European mission directed to the outer planets of the solar system.

The main scientific objective of the Juice mission is to determine the extent to which Jupiter’s satellites and in particular Ganymede can harbor life. The main scientific objectives for Ganymede, and to a lesser extent for Callisto, are instead the characterization of the oceanic layers and the detection of possible underground water reservoirs; the topographic, geological and compositional cartography of the surface; the study of the physical properties of the ice crusts; the characterization of the distribution of internal masses, dynamics and evolution of internal structures; the investigation of the tenuous atmosphere of Ganymede; the study of the intrinsic magnetic field of Ganymede and its interactions with the Jovian magnetosphere.

For Europa, the focus is on chemistry essential to life, including organic molecules, and understanding the formation of surface features and material composition other than water ice. In addition, Juice will provide the first subsurface survey of the moon, including the first determination of the minimum thickness of the icy crust over active regions.