The European Space Agency (ESA) and Airbus Defence and Space, the world’s second largest space company, have signed a €350M contract to develop and build ESA’s JUICE (JUpiter ICy moons Explorer) spacecraft. JUICE spacecraft will study Jupiter and its icy moons. As prime contractor, Airbus Defence and Space will employ 150 people and lead a consortium of more than 60 companies. Read more about it here.
In May 2022, the Airbus Defence and Space-built spacecraft JUICE (Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer) will head for Jupiter. Its main mission will be to explore the huge planet’s three largest icy moons in the hope of determining whether life is possible on these dwarf planets.
What if extra-terrestrial life does exist? For centuries, this question – which both fascinates and frightens mankind – has remained unanswered. But by the year 2030, some answers may well have been found – with the help of Airbus Defence and Space.
In July 2015, the company was selected by the European Space Agency (ESA) as prime contractor for the design, development, production, and testing of a new spacecraft named ‘JUICE’. As its name implies (Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer), the mission will be to explore the Jovian system, focusing on three of Jupiter’s huge Galilean moons: Europa, Ganymede and Callisto, which are as large as dwarf planets and covered by an icy crust.
“The goal is to investigate whether there are liquid oceans under these icy crusts which might harbour organic components or even life” says Vincent Poinsignon, JUICE project manager.
It will take JUICE seven and a half years to travel the almost 600 million kilometres to the gas giant. Once the spacecraft enters Jupiter’s gravitational field, the first two and a half years of its three-and-a-half-year mission will be spent making about 30 thirty observation overflights of the three moons, observing examining gravity and magnetic interactions, amongst other things. The last year will be spent in orbit around Ganymede to observe this moon in much greater detail.
The challenges are enormous. JUICE must deal with very low and very high temperatures as it will circle Earth, Mars and Venus for gravity assist manoeuvres to build up enough speed to reach Jupiter’s orbit. Jupiter’s cold environment also makes it hard to collect energy.
JUICE will have the largest solar arrays ever built for any interplanetary spacecraft. As a comparison: Rosetta’s solar panels only have 64 square metres.
As it will carry ten scientific instruments that require a very high level of magnetic cleanliness, the spacecraft itself may cannot generate electromagnetic signals. As all electronic systems generate electromagnetic waves when they are in operation, the Airbus Defence and Space engineers have devised a way to reduce them as much as possible.