(WHNT) – An Ariane 5 rocket, intended to launch on Thursday morning, will send a $1.7 billion European Space Agency (ESA) probe to Jupiter in order to study its ice-covered moons.
According to our news affiliate CBS, the Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer (JUICE) will use ground-penetrating radar and other tools to “remotely probe” the tidally-heated oceans that are thought to be under the icy crusts of Europa, Ganymede and Callisto.
The craft is also supposed to provide a newer look at Io, the fourth moon discovered by Galileo and the most volcanically active world in the solar system.
“The main goal is to understand whether there are habitable environments among those icy moons around a giant planet like Jupiter,” said ESA project scientist Olivier Witasse.
JUICE’s voyage will begin on Thursday at 8:15 a.m. EDT, 7:15 a.m. CDT, when the Ariane 5 takes off from the ESA’s launch site in Kourou, French Guiana, The craft is the same that was used to launch the James Webb Space Telescope on Christmas Day 2021.
According to CBS, the Ariane 5 does not have the power to propel the LUICE to its target, however, it will send the spacecraft on a 3.1 billion-mile “interplanetary bank shot” which will carry it once by the moon in 2024, once past Venus in 2025 and then two more times past Earth in 2026 and 2029. These fly-bys will create enough velocity to finally get to Jupiter.
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However, it will still take eight years before JUICE can reach Jupiter.
A second Jupiter-searching craft will beat JUICE by roughly a year. NASA’s Europa Clipper will launch in October 2024 and arrive in Jupiter’s orbit in April 2030.
NASA’s probe will focus on Europa, while JUICE will primarily focus on Callisto and Ganymede.
Witasse is excited for the outcome of the two crafts saying, “we are very happy that there will be two spacecraft at the same time in the Jupiter system… So for the science outcome, it will be just fantastic and very exciting. We are working very closely with the Clipper teams… The great thing is that the two missions are very complementary.”
The aim of Clipper and Juice’s missions is to possibly confirm the habitability of the hidden seas and whether life could exist in such extreme environments.
“We will [initially] focus on Europa, then we will go to a high latitude phase, which is basically focusing more of the polar areas of Jupiter itself,” payload system engineer Alessandro Atzei told CBS. “And then we will transfer to Ganymede, where the mission will end in about four years, depending on how much propellant we have left, in a circular orbit. When the propellant is finished, or nearly finished, we will have a controlled crash on Ganymede.”
However, Witasse says that the probe will not be used to detect life, and it will be used to study interesting aspects related to life and habitability.
According to CBS, Jupiter is second only to Mars as the most visited planet in the solar system.