ESA’s Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer (Juice) starts 8-year journey to seek life on Galilean moons
RHEA Group is celebrating the successful launch by the European Space Agency (ESA) of the Juice spacecraft, which departed today on its 8-year journey to explore Jupiter and three of its icy moons: Callisto, Ganymede and Europa. Experts from RHEA are supporting the mission with science operations analysis and scientific payload cruise operations, and RHEA’s MOIS tool suite is being used for flight procedures and preparing the flight operations plan.
ESA’s latest major space mission, Juice, was launched today on board an Ariane 5 rocket from Europe’s Spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana. Juice will travel to Jupiter using gravity assists from flybys of Venus, Earth and the Earth-Moon system to reach its final target in July 2031. Once there, it will orbit Jupiter and complete 35 flybys of three of its Galilean moons – Callisto, Ganymede and Europa – before entering orbit around Ganymede.
Juice was chosen in 2012 as the first ‘large-class’ mission in ESA’s Cosmic Vision 2015-2025 programme, looking at two of its four key themes: ‘What are the conditions for planet formation and the emergence of life?’ and ‘How does the Solar System work?’ Juice will study the moons both as planetary objects and possible habitats, because all three icy moons are known to have inner oceans and therefore may support life, albeit in a different environment to that on Earth.
The mission will observe Jupiter in detail, including its atmosphere and magnetosphere. It will also look at the interaction of three of the Galilean moons with the gas giant planet, because the Jupiter system can be considered as a model for gas giants across the universe.
Sara de la Fuente, Planetary Science Operations and Software Development Manager, RHEA Group, said: “The launch follows a busy few years for our team at ESA’s European Space Astronomy Centre (ESAC) in Spain where we have been developing and implementing the SPOT JUICE tool, which is used for preparing the scientific payload cruise operations. Now that Juice is on its way to Jupiter, we are looking forward to providing ongoing development and support. It is a very exciting time for everyone involved!”
Verónica Orozco, RHEA Group Operations Manager (Spain), added: “Once a mission has launched, you cannot make mistakes or lose time, because every minute is precious. The organizations responsible for each of the instruments that make up Juice’s payload will want to collect as much information as possible. Therefore our contribution to payload operations – and also the science operations analysis once the data arrives – is hugely important. We are also very proud at RHEA that our MOIS tool suite is being used at ESA’s European Space Operations Centre (ESOC) in Darmstadt, Germany, for flight operations and procedures for Juice.”
The mission’s distance from Earth means data transmission times are long, taking 53 minutes to travel to the spacecraft when at its furthest location – or 1 hour 46 minutes both ways. Any changes to spacecraft manoeuvres or instructions to the payload instruments have to take this into account, adding an extra element to mission and payload operations planning.
Find out more
Discover the facts about Juice and RHEA’s contribution to this important interplanetary mission in our Juice case study.
Main image: © ESA (ATG Medialab)