There is only one week left until the launch of the first European mission to Jupiter.
European Space Agency (ESA) Jupiter Ise Satellites Explorer The probe, or JUICE for short, is scheduled to lift off atop an Ariane 5 rocket from European Spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana at 8:15 a.m. EDT (1215 GMT) on April 13.
You can watch the launch here at Space.com when the time comes, courtesy of ESA.
Related: JUICE’s flagship mission to Europe will study Jupiter’s moons Europa, Callisto and Ganymede.
The liftoff will begin a long interplanetary journey for JUICE, which will end with the spacecraft reaching Jupiter orbit in 2031.
The 6.6-tonne (6 metric tons) solar-powered probe will conduct a series of flybys of three of Jupiter’s four largest Galilean moons – Ganymede, Europa and Callisto, which are believed to have oceans of liquid water under the ice. shells. (JUICE would not study the fourth Galilean moon, the incredibly volcanic Io, in such detail.)
Then, in 2035, JUICE will move from the orbit of Jupiter to the orbit of Ganymede, the largest moon in the solar system. The move will make JUICE the first probe to orbit a moon other than Earth’s.
All the while, JUICE will be eyeing Jupiter and its three target moons with its powerful suite of 10 science instruments, studying them in unprecedented detail.
“The mission will characterize these moons as planetary objects and potential habitats, explore Jupiter’s complex environment in depth and study the wider Jupiter system as archetypal gas giants throughout the universe,” ESA officials wrote in the journal ESA. Description of the task (Opens in a new tab).
The JUICE launch will be followed in relatively short order by another Jupiter mission – NASA’s Europa Clipper, which is scheduled to lift off on a SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket in October 2024.
As its name suggests, the Europa Clipper will focus on Europa, studying the icy moon in detail over dozens of flybys. (Klipper will orbit Jupiter, as JUICE will orbit in the beginning.)
Many astrobiologists see Europa as one of the solar system’s best bets for hosting alien life, in part because the moon’s circumference appears to be in contact with its rocky core, allowing complex chemistry to occur. By contrast, the buried oceans of Ganymede and Callisto are thought to lie between layers of ice.
One of the missions is currently orbiting NASA’s Jupiter-Juno, which reached the largest planet in the solar system in 2016. The Juno mission is expected to end in 2025.
Mike Wall is the author of “outside (Opens in a new tab)Book (Major Grand Publishers, 2018; illustration by Carl Tate), a book about the search for aliens. Follow him on Twitter @employee (Opens in a new tab). Follow us on Twitter @employee (Opens in a new tab) and on Facebook (Opens in a new tab).
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