Brussels (Brussels Morning) The European Space Agency’s (ESA) planned Jupiter exploration probe just passed a rigorous battery of trials in the ESTEC test centre in the Netherlands, where the robotic spacecraft was exposed to the kind of temperature extremes it will likely experience during its upcoming 11-year mission.
The probe, named Jupiter Icy moons Explorer, or simply JUICE, is one of the most ambitious upcoming ESA missions, and is planned to be the first European orbiter to reach one of the Solar System’s gas giants.
JUICE, designed and manufactured by Airbus Defence and Space, is scheduled to depart Earth in June 2022, atop an Ariane 5 rocket launched from the European spaceport in French Guyana. The probe will take 7.6 years to reach Jupiter, making a series of gravitational, slingshot manoeuvres, which will include close flybys of the Moon, Earth, Venus and Mars, before it slows down to enter orbit around Jupiter.
Once it enters the Jovian system in late 2029, JUICE will focus its instruments on three of the gas giant’s largest moons – Europa, Ganymede and Callisto – while slowly manoeuvering into a trajectory that will end with the craft orbiting Ganymede in 2032,thus becoming the first vessel to orbit a moon other than the Earth’s.
The spacecraft’s scientific instruments will probe the three moons in seeking to confirm the existence of suspected oceans of liquid water under their surfaces, and to check whether their aquatic environments might be potentially suitable for life.
In last week’s tests at the ESA’s Large Space Simulator, the completed probe was subjected to extreme temperatures, ranging from minus 180 degrees to 250 degrees Celsius, the kind of extremes it will encounter in the time it spends exposed to direct sunlight and as it passes through the shadow of Jupiter and other planets on its epic route.
Once in the Jovian system, the probe will succeed NASA’s Juno probe, which will likely be deorbited by that time. Its mission is expected to coincide with NASA’s Europa Clipper mission, which is planned for launching in October 2024 and should initiate its orbit of Jupiter in April 2030.