Arianespace and ESA announce Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer launch contract

Arianespace and ESA announce Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer launch contract
Image by Jonny Lindner from Pixabay

The European Space Agency (ESA) has unveiled plans for a spacecraft to study Jupiter and three of its largest moons – Ganymede, Europa and Callisto – in the first “large-class mission” of the ESA’s Cosmic Vision 2015–2025 programme.

The Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer – aka “Juice” – will ride into space on an Ariane launch vehicle, Arianespace and ESA confirmed on 17 June at the International Paris Air Show. Its mission is “devoted to complete a unique tour of the Jupiter system”.

The launch period for Juice will start in mid-2022 aboard an Ariane 5 or an Ariane 64 launch vehicle – depending on the final launch slot from Europe’s Spaceport in French Guiana, South America, the ESA said.

The satellite is expected to have a mass at lift-off of around six tonnes and will be placed in Earth’s escape orbit in a direction to Jupiter, beginning a journey of 600 million kilometres that will end in October 2029 after a 7.5 year cruise which should include gravitational assists from Earth, Venus and Mars.

The Jupiter tour includes several flybys of each planet-sized world, and ends with orbit insertion around Ganymede, the largest moon in the Solar System. Juice will carry what the ESA described as “the most powerful scientific payload ever flown to the outer Solar System””, consisting of ten state-of-the-art instruments and one science experiment that uses the spacecraft telecommunication system with ground-based radio telescopes.

Juice’s instruments are expected to enable scientists to “compare each of the icy satellites” and to “investigate the potential for such bodies to harbour habitable environments such as subsurface oceans”. According to the ESA, they will also carry out observations of Jupiter, its atmosphere, its magnetosphere, its other satellites and rings.

European multinational aerospace corporation Airbus is developing and building the Juice spacecraft. As prime contractor for design, development, production, and testing of the satellite, Airbus will lead a consortium of more than 80 companies covering more than 110 contracts.

“Juice is the first ‘large-class’ mission in our Cosmic Vision programme and of prime importance for investigating the habitability potential of ocean-worlds beyond our own,” Günther Hasinger, the ESA’s Director of Science, said in a statement. “We’re delighted to confirm it will have a flying start with an Ariane launch vehicle, setting it on course to fulfil its scientific goals in the Jupiter system.”

“Arianespace is honoured to be awarded this new scientific mission from ESA, which will advance our understanding of the Universe,” Stéphane Israël, Chief Executive Officer of Arianespace, added.

Israël sees the contract as “confirmation of Arianespace’s ability to ensure Europe’s independent access to space for all types of missions”.

“We are once again marshalling all of our strengths and capabilities to support Europe’s spaceborne ventures, with a launch services offering based on Ariane 5 and Ariane 6 so we can deliver the availability and flexibility needed by ESA for its latest emblematic mission,” he said.

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