Discovering Jupiter, Italy leading Juice mission

Mar 15, 2023 287

Jupiter is not just a planet, it is a gas giant, and studying its icy moons will also shed new light on the origin of life on our planet and the dynamics between the Sun and the celestial bodies revolving around it. That is the goal of the investigation of the Juice probe, which will be launched from Europe's Kurou spaceport in French Guiana on April 13 with a French-made Ariane 5 rocket.

The European Space Agency (Esa) mission has Italy at the forefront, with Asi, the Italian Space Agency, and Leonardo among the key players in an operation that rests on a technological platform even more advanced than Juno, the Nasa spacecraft that entered Jupiter's orbit in 2016.

Ganymede, Europa and Callisto-the three moons of Jupiter that hide an ocean beneath the thick ice cap that cloaks them-are the destination of Juice, which will seek to understand how the colossal planet's complex environment developed and whether there were ever conditions suitable for harboring life on a system that poses endless questions for the scientific community. Particularly detailed will be the study of Ganymede, which will see Juice the first-ever space probe to orbit a moon in the outer solar system.

The carrier's journey will last about eight years, during which Juice will perform fly-bys with Venus, Earth and the Earth-Moon system, a pioneering maneuver, a true world first, that will save a great deal of propellant, making such a long journey possible. The satellite weighs six tons and the rocket does not have enough force to launch: gravitational shores allow it to exchange energy and make the orbit wider and wider until it intersects that of Jupiter.

Reaching Jupiter in July 2023, Juice will spend many months in orbit around the planet, completing fly-bys co Europa, Ganymede and Callisto, and eventually conducting an orbital tour around Ganymede, investigating its peculiar interactions with the Jovian environment and the unique role it plays in the system of large icy moons.

On board Juice will be the most powerful remote sensing, geophysical and in situ cargo ever flown to the outer solar system, with ten state-of-the-art instruments. Janus and Majis were built at Leonardo's Campi Bisenzio plant in Tuscany. Janus, for which Leonardo is industrial manager, has enough resolution to observe a tennis ball at a distance of one kilometer, and the colors of its thirteen filters will allow the detection of concentrations of different chemical elements. About the size of a bedside table, Majis, on the other hand, is a kind of flying laboratory for chemical and physical analysis from a few thousand kilometers away. It consists of two instruments in one covering the visible to mid-infrared range and is equivalent to 1,016 cameras, each capturing the image in a single color.

Then in the Leonardo factory in Nerviano, Lombardy, came the Juice photovoltaic panels, the largest ever made for an interplanetary mission, with a surface area of 85 square meters and a total of about 24,000 cells to provide the electrical power needed at a distance of more than 750 million kilometers from the Sun.

The Italian company Thales Alenia Space is then responsible for the development, realization and testing of RIME (Radar Sounder for Icy Moons Exploration), a key instrument for the success of the mission due to its ability to directly detect the internal structure of the icy layers.

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