Paris: The European Space Agency’s (ESA) JUpiter ICy moons Explorer, or JUICE mission, is now ready to study Jupiter, said mission officials after they successfully completed the final deployment of all instruments in the spacecraft.
Launched on April 13, JUICE is ESA’s first-ever mission to find alien life on the icy worlds of Jupiter.
In the last six weeks, the flight control team has deployed all the solar panels, antennas, probes and booms that were tucked away safely during launch.
The last step has been the swinging out and locking into place of the probes and antennas that make up JUICE’s Radio & Plasma Wave Investigation (RPWI).
This week, the four Langmuir Probes and three Radio Wave Instrument antennas of the RPWI were successfully deployed. Altogether these make up seven of the 10 RPWI sensors that will measure the variations in the electric and magnetic fields around Jupiter, as well as radio waves and cold plasma.
“Fantastic, after more than 10 years of intensive work, we are finally ready for science discoveries!” said Jan-Erik Wahlund, principal investigator of RPWI from the Swedish Institute of Space Physics, in a statement.
RPWI will be the first ever device to generate a 3D map of the electric fields around Jupiter. It will give valuable information on how energy is transferred between Jupiter’s enormous rotating magnetosphere and the large icy moons Ganymede, Callisto and Europa. This energy transfer drives, for example, the auroras on Ganymede and in Jupiter’s upper atmosphere.
The special sensitivity of RPWI to low frequencies means that it will be able to detect very weak electromagnetic signals from tides and currents within the sub-surface oceans of the icy moons.
Meanwhile, another instrument Radar for Icy Moon Exploration (RIME), which had faced an issue with its antenna, has now fully unfolded, the officials said.
They suspected that a tiny stuck pin jammed the segments in place. RIME was jolted into life almost three weeks later, when the team fired a mechanical device inside the bracket. The shock moved the pin by a matter of millimetres.
Commissioning of RIME is still ongoing, but the team has already made some measurements with the instrument.
In the next weeks, more of JUICE’s 10 instruments will be switched on and checked, with the hope that by mid-July, all instruments will be working perfectly, ready for cruising to Jupiter.
In August 2024, Juice will carry out the world’s first ever lunar-Earth gravity assist. By performing this manoeuvre — a gravity assist flyby of the Moon followed just 1.5 days later by one of Earth — JUICE will be able to save a significant amount of propellant on its journey.