The European Space Agency (Esa) is set to launch its Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer (Juice) mission to explore the largest planet and its three ocean-bearing moons. The Juice probe is scheduled to begin its eight-year-long journey towards Jupiter today. Initially, the mission was scheduled to take off on 13 April but was delayed because of adverse weather conditions.
The Juice mission will launch from Europe's Spaceport in French Guiana on the Ariane-5 rocket, which was previously used to launch the James Webb Space Telescope, according to Nasa.
The six-tonne spacecraft, which is about four square metres, will separate from the rocket at an altitude of 1,500 kilometres (930 miles) in about 30 minutes after blast-off. With this, it will begin its journey towards Jupiter, which is 628 million kilometres from Earth, according to an AFP report.
As it lacks the power to fly straight towards Jupiter, the spacecraft will have to go around other planets to get a gravitational boost. It will do a fly-by of Earth and the Moon, then slingshot around Venus in 2025 before going past Earth again in 2029, according to AFP. The spacecraft is expected to enter Jupiter’s orbit by 2031, where it will spend three years probing its three largest moons — Europa, Ganymede and Callisto. Jupiter has 80 to 95 moons orbiting it, according to the Nasa website.
Juice will carry 10 state-of-the-art instruments, comprising the most powerful remote sensing, geophysical and in situ payload complement ever flown to the outer solar system, according to the ESA. Carole Mundell, the ESA's science director, said the Jovian system had all the ingredients of a mini-solar system, the AFP report adds.
Along with investigating the system to better understand how the solar system was formed, the Juice probe will also attempt to answer the ultimate question "Are we alone in the universe?" Mundell said. Although it won’t be able to directly identify the existence of alien life, it aims to investigate whether the moons have the right conditions for life.
Mars has been the focus for hosting life for a long time whereas Jupiter’s icy moons have been ignored as potential candidates since they were first discovered by astronomer Galileo Galilei more than 400 years ago. However, previous space probes suggested that deep below their icy shells, the moons have oceans of liquid water. Since then, Ganymede and Europa have been prime candidates for the search for life, as reported by AFP.
Europa will also be probed by Nasa's Europa Clipper mission, which is scheduled to launch in October 2024. In 2034, Juice is expected to enter Ganymede’s orbit, the Solar System's largest moon and the only one that has its own magnetic field, which protects it from radiation. This will be the first spacecraft to orbit a mon other than our own, according to Esa.
Costing 1.6 billion euro ($1.7 billion) Juice is one of the "most complex" spacecraft to be sent into the outer solar system beyond Mars, according to Esa director-general Josef Aschbacher.