Jupiter explorer hits first snag as agency considers “shaking” spacecraft

The European Space Agency’s JUICE spacecraft is continuing in its attempts to deploy its 16-metre-long radar antenna, as its decade-long journey to Jupiter gets underway.

JUICE – the Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer mission – is one of the ESA’s most complex projects to date. It will complete four gravity-assisted flybys of Earth and Venus to propel itself towards the solar system’s largest planet, where it will investigate conditions for life on its large moons Ganymede, Callisto and Europa.

After launching on April 14, the craft was scheduled to spend 17 days deploying its instrumentation, however its Radar for Icy Moons Explorer (RIME) antenna has reportedly failed to release.

RIME is to scan nine kilometres beneath the surface of Jupiter’s icy moons to understand their sub-surface geography. But it’s only partially deployed, and ESA thinks a small pin is blocking the antenna from being released.

If the radar fails to fully deploy, mission control in Darmstadt, Germany, might consider an engine burn to shake the spacecraft and dislodge the blockage.

Beyond this, a statement from ESA described the deployment of JUICE’s instruments as “otherwise performing excellently”.

The solar arrays which will be used to power the spacecraft’s systems, its 10-metre-long magnetometer have all successfully extended.

First pictures from the JUICE launch

JUICE will continue activating its systems over the next two months as it prepares its course outside of the Earth system. Its first Earth-Moon flyby is scheduled for August 2024, followed by a Venus flyby one year later, and Earth flybys in September 2026 and January 2029 to enable its arrival at Jupiter in July 2031.

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