The European Space Agency’s JUICE mission has successfully launched, putting into action a decade-long mission to chart three of Jupiter’s largest moons.
Australia’s New Norcia ground station, about 132km north of Perth, acquired the signal of the Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer on Friday evening local time as it began unfurling its 27m long solar arrays.
It will continue deploying its operational antennas and instrument booms over the first 17 days of its mission. However this only marks a tiny fraction of the craft’s operational time. JUICE will spend eight years performing a series of gravity-assisted flybys around Earth, the Moon and Venus to slingshot itself towards Jupiter.
Upon arrival at the gas giant in 2031, JUICE will begin charting Jupiter’s three icy moons – Ganymede, Callisto and Europa – to find whether they support liquid water beneath their surfaces.
The mission will culminate in 2035 with a gravity-assisted collision into the surface of Ganymede.
ESA has released the first images of JUICE’s deployment, including rear-view images of the craft breaking free of Earth, and the rotation of its solar arrays.
The solar arrays power JUICE’s essential instruments which will be checked by ESA mission controllers over the next three months as the craft cruises through our solar neighbourhood ahead of its first Earth-Moon flyby in August 2024.
“To fly such a complex path from such an enormous distance – and vitally, to get Juice’s valuable data home to Earth – will require precise navigation techniques, reliant on ESA’s deep space antennas in Spain, Argentina and Australia, all controlled remotely from ESOC,” says the JUICE’s spacecraft operations manager, Ignacio Tanco.