ESA launches Jupiter JUICE mission, the first probe to orbit another planet's moon

The JUICE mission will enter Jupiter's orbit in eight years' time.
Chris Young
The Ariane 5 rocket at launch.
The Ariane 5 rocket at launch.

ESA / Twitter  

The European Space Agency (ESA) has launched its landmark JUICE mission.

The Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer (JUICE) mission launched atop an Arianespace Ariane 5 rocket from Europe's Spaceport in French Guiana at 09:14 local time (14:14 CET).

The JUICE mission is now making its way on an eight-year journey to Jupiter's largest moon, Ganymede. It will be the first probe to orbit another planet's moon.

ESA's JUICE lifts off within a one-second launch window

Impressively, ESA only had a one-second launch window for JUICE. This is because the mission relies on a specific alignment of Earth, and of the entire Solar System, that will allow it to perform gravity-assist maneuvers around the Earth and Venus to help it on its way to Jupiter.

The 2.67-ton (2.42 metric tonnes) JUICE spacecraft set out on its journey with 4 tons (3.65 metric tonnes) of fuel in its tanks. Though this is a lot of fuel for a comparatively small spacecraft, the JUICE mission requires a large amount of propellant for its gravity-assist maneuvers.

The launch went ahead a day after initially intended. The mission was postponed yesterday, April 13, due to a risk of lightning. Every day the mission was postponed, it would have been moved back by a minute due to Earth's alignment.

In its mission overview, ESA states that the JUICE spacecraft will "make detailed observations of the giant gas planet and its three large ocean-bearing moons – Ganymede, Callisto, and Europa – with a suite of remote sensing, geophysical and in situ instruments."

Update 09:17 GMT-3 (14:17 CET): Ariane 5 rocket solid boosters separated and fairing jettisoned

Roughly three minutes after launch, ESA and Arianespace announced that launch conditions were nominal and Ariane 5 had jettisoned its fairing, meaning it will soon deliver the JUICE spacecraft into orbit and on its way.

Update 09:42 GMT-3 (14:42 CET): JUICE separates from Ariane 5 upper stage

ESA has announced that JUICE is separated from the Ariane 5 rocket, meaning it has just started its eight-year trip to Jupiter's moon Ganymede.

The final key milestone for today's launch, which is expected shortly, is the deployment of JIUCE's solar arrays.

Update 10:33 GMT-3 (15:33 CET): JUICE deploys its solar arrays

On its live stream, ESA confirmed that the JUICE spacecraft has successfully deployed its two solar panels and has begun to draw electricity from sunlight.

"With the critical milestone of solar array deployment completed, we have a mission!", ESA wrote on Twitter.

The JUICE spacecraft's 85 sq meter solar panels are some of the largest ever deployed on a space mission. However, Rosario Lorente, science operations scientist at ESA, pointed out during the launch webcast that it will only be able to draw roughly the same amount of power as a microwave when it is at Jupiter, due to its distance of roughly 778 million kilometers from the Sun.

JUICE will be the first probe to orbit another planet's moon

Once it reaches its destination, ESA's JUICE mission will insert itself into Jupiter's orbit to explore the gas giant and its icy moons Europa, Callisto, and Ganymede.

If all goes according to plan, the JUICE probe will arrive at Jupiter in 2031. Once there, it will spend roughly four years studying those three (of the four) Galilean moons. In 2035, JUICE will alter its trajectory to enter into the orbit of Jupiter's largest moon, Ganymede. This will make it the first space mission to orbit a moon that is not the Earth's.

ESA launches Jupiter JUICE mission, the first probe to orbit another planet's moon
An artist's impression of the JUICE spacecraft.


Scientists have been targeting the moons of Jupiter in part due to the fact that they may hold massive oceans under their icy surfaces that could harbor microbial extraterrestrial life.

The JUICE mission will also "study the wider Jupiter system as an archetype for gas giants across the Universe," ESA explains in its mission overview. Jupiter has played a key role in the evolution of Earth, so gaining a better understanding of the gas giant will help to shed new light on planetary evolution throughout the cosmos.

This was a breaking news story and it was updated as new information emerged. You can watch the livestream of the launch as it happened below.

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