Europe’s Jupiter-bound JUICE spacecraft is ready for launch in April

TAMPA, Fla. — The satellite behind Europe’s next flagship space mission is ready to be sent to French Guiana for an April launch to explore three of Jupiter’s largest icy moons, manufacturer Airbus announced on January 20.

The Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer (JUICE) has been undergoing final assembly and testing for almost a year and a half in France with Airbus, which was selected as main contractor back in 2015.

Final preparations included the integration of a huge 100 square meter solar array, developed by Germany’s Azur Space, to ensure the spacecraft has enough power 740 million kilometers from the sun.

Airbus will send JUICE in early February to Arianespace’s launch pad in Kourou, French Guiana, where it is scheduled to launch on one of the last two remaining Ariane 5 rockets before Ariane 6’s debut in late 2023.

It took nearly 500 Airbus employees and more than 80 companies across Europe to prepare the spacecraft for its journey to the Jupiter system, said Cyril Cavel, JUICE’s project manager at Airbus Defense and Space.

It would take the 6,200-kilogram spacecraft about eight years to reach Jupiter’s orbit in July 2031 after a series of gravity-assisted flybys of the inner solar system.

JUICE is equipped with 10 instruments to study magnetic fields in the Jupiter system and potentially ocean-bearing moons Ganymede, Europa and Callisto – including cameras, an ice-penetrating radar, a radio science experiment and sensors for measuring altitude and other data.

The European Space Agency (ESA) hopes to use JUICE to peer beneath icy lunar surfaces to investigate their potential habitability for microbial life.

After nearly three and a half years of flybys of Ganymede, Europa and Callisto as they orbit Jupiter, the spacecraft will orbit Ganymede in December 2034 for a closer look at the largest moon in the Solar System.

After completing a mission estimated to cost around 1.5 billion euros ($1.6 billion), ESA expects JUICE to eventually crash into Ganymede in late 2035 after running out of the fuel needed to maintain its orbit around the moon.

Meanwhile, NASA’s Europa Clipper mission is scheduled to launch next year, but will be inserted into Jupiter’s orbit in 2030 shortly before JUICE, aims to focus on investigating whether Europe has the ingredients necessary for life.

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