Europe’s Juice probe blasts off to Jupiter and its icy moons

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Twenty-four hours after its postponement due to bad weather, the European Juice mission set off on Friday at midday. The Juice probe separated a few minutes later from the Ariane 5 rocket successfully. The journey to Jupiter and its icy moons in search of habitable environments for extraterrestrial life is expected to take eight years.

The European space probe Juice took off on Friday, during a second attempt, aboard an Ariane 5, bound for Jupiter and its icy moons to look for environments conducive to forms of extra-terrestrial life.

The rocket lifted off from the European spaceport of Kourou in French Guiana at 12:14 p.m. GMT (2:14 p.m. Paris time), 24 hours after its launch was postponed due to the risk of thunderstorms. Its trajectory is “nominal”, that is to say in line with what is expected, according to the teams on site. The probe separated a few minutes later from the Ariane 5 rocket successfully.

On Thursday, the teams from the Guiana Space Center interrupted operations because of a risk of lightning, while several personalities, including the King of the Belgians Philippe and the French astronauts Thomas Pesquet and German Matthias Maurer, had come to attend the launch from the Jupiter’s control room.

A few minutes before the final count, “a large cloud mass approached and we put a ‘weather red’, because we absolutely could not proceed with the launch because of this risk of lightning”, explains to AFP Stéphane Israel, the president of Arianespace.

In search of extraterrestrial life forms

Flagship mission of the European Space Agency (ESA), Juice (Jupiter Icy Moons explorer) must explore Jupiter and its icy moons, in search of habitable environments for extraterrestrial life forms. This is the first time that space Europe has soared to a planet in the outer solar system, which begins after Mars.

The voyage is planned to last eight years. Unable to reach Jupiter directly, the machine will have to go through complex manœugravitational assistance which consists in using the force of attraction of other planets to gain speed.

By a flyby Moon-Earth first, then Venus, in 2025, then again Earth in 2029, before taking off towards the behemoth of the solar system and its largest moons, discovered by Galileo 400 years ago years: Io the volcanic and her three frozen companions Europa, Ganymede and Callisto.

Juice specifically targets Ganymede. It will be placed in 2034 in orbit around this natural satellite, the largest in the solar system and the only one to have a magnetic field protecting it from radiation.

Juice’s main quest is to find environments suitable for the appearance of life. If Jupiter, a gaseous planet, is uninhabitable, its moons Europa and Ganymede are ideal candidates: under their surface of ice, they shelter oceans of liquid water. However, only water in a liquid state makes life possible.

The challenge of the mission is to know the composition of its ocean, to find out if an ecosystem could develop there.

>> To read also: The Juice mission leaves to explore the icy moons of Jupiter in search of extraterrestrial life

“It’s the most complex probe ever sent to Jupiter,” said Philippe Baptiste, president of the National Center for Space Studies (CNES). Designed by Airbus, Juice carries ten scientific instruments (optical camera, imaging spectrometer, radar, altimeter, magnetometer, etc.).

The launch of Juice, at a cost of 1.6 billion euros, comes in the midst of a launcher crisis for Europe, which is almost deprived of autonomous access to space after the departure of Russian Soyuz rockets from Kourou, cumulative delays of Ariane 6 and the failure of the first commercial flight of Vega C.

This is the penultimate flight of an Ariane 5 rocket, before the arrival of Ariane 6 scheduled for the end of 2023.

With AFP

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