Juice: ESA mission to find alien life on Jupiter moons | Tech News

A space mission with a distinctive name is about embarking on a journey to find alien life on a moon of Jupiter.

juice (which is Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer) is a European Space Agency (ESA) ventured into unprecedented detailed observations of the gas giant.

It will include searching its icy moons – Ganymede, Callisto and Europa, each with its own ocean – to find out if they could support life, maybe if they still do.

As the final countdown to launch approaches, here’s everything you need to know about humanity’s latest exploration of the stars.

Artist's impression of Juice in space.Photo: ESA
Artist’s impression of Juice in space.Photo: ESA

When and where?

Juice is scheduled to launch at 1.15pm UK time on Thursday.

It will launch into the sky on an Ariane 5 rocket from ESA’s spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana.

so yeah it’s not actually Launched from Europe, but from French territory on the north coast of South America.

The live broadcast of the launch will begin about half an hour before launch time, so you can soak in the excitement before the real action begins.

If the timing goes according to plan, Juice will separate from Ariane 5’s upper stage at 1.42pm UK time and should send a first signal to the Earth’s surface at 1.51pm, allowing mission crews to take control of the vehicle.

Juice meets Ariane 5. Image: ESA
Juice meets Ariane 5. Image: ESA

How long will the mission last?

For a long time, you certainly won’t be watching the entire mission live.

Juice’s total cruise time will be eight years, including flybys of Earth and Venus en route to Jupiter, where it will make close encounters with three of its moons.

They will make observations using remote sensing and geophysical tools, as well as equipment on board the spacecraft.

Jupiter itself will also come under scrutiny, with astronomers hoping that knowledge gained from its complex magnetic field, radiation and plasma environment will help inform studies of other gas giant planets.

One of them is Saturn, another gas giant whose moon has oceans that could support life. Such worlds host the largest known reserves of water outside Earth, and Juice is the first mission to explore them.

ESA will assist in its work nasaand the space agency Japan and Israel.

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Why are we still racing to space?

What do we know about spacecraft and rockets?

Every space launch is an engineering marvel, but the Ariane 5 is a relatively standard rocket.

Described by ESA as a “workhorse” for getting into space, it has yet to reach the level of NASA’s record-breaking, multibillion-dollar Space Launch System Powering the Artemis program.

That said, Ariane 5 did carry NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope Into orbit in December 2021.

ESA has launched more than 100 Ariane 5 rockets, which will eventually be retired next year. You can probably guess what its successor is called.

Arianespace's Ariane 5 rocket lifted off on Saturday, December 12, carrying NASA's James Webb Space Telescope.  Eurospaceport, Guyana Space Center in Kourou, French Guiana, February 25, 2021. The $10 billion infrared observatory is designed to replace the aging Hubble Space Telescope. (NASA via AP) Image: AP
Ariane 5 carrying the James Webb Space Telescope

Juice was almost at the top as far as surveys go – it cost £1.4bn.

Much of this is used to ensure that solar energy can work in the part of space that enjoys only 3% of the illumination that Earth gets from the sun. Earth is about 93 million miles from the sun, and Jupiter is not farther than 500 million miles.

As Juice Spacecraft Manager Christian Erd describes it…

“A Far, Dark Place”

The Juice mission’s intrepid team of engineers has been tasked with developing solar cells capable of operating in ultra-dark conditions.

The result is a cell with a “triple-junction” design — meaning three layers of cells stacked on top of each other to generate power from different wavelengths of sunlight.

This makes them more efficient than previous tasks, but the task at hand is still a difficult one.

Ready to test a standard triple-junction solar cell for the Juice mission.Photo: ESA
Ready to test a standard triple-junction solar cell for the Juice mission.Photo: ESA

The solar energy received around Jupiter is “like being indoors” compared to what you get near Earth, says solar cell engineer Carsten Bauer.

Speaking of going indoors, the Juice needs to cover so many solar cells (24,000) that it would fill a moderately sized living room.

As a show of trust, NASA is using them for its own Europa Clipper mission to Jupiter in 2024.

It will reach Jupiter in 2030, a year ahead of Juice due to a shorter route.

NASA's Europa Clipper uses the same solar cells and panels as ESA's Juice.Photo: ESA
NASA’s Europa Clipper uses the same solar cells and panels as ESA’s Juice.Photo: ESA

Juice will end its mission by entering orbit around Ganymede, marking the first time a spacecraft has been stationed on a moon other than Earth. Expected to happen in 2034.

In fact, this spacecraft will make history for a long time to come.

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